Skip to main content

Full text of "The Standard Of Living In 1860 American Consumption Levels On The Eve Of The Civil War"

See other formats

The Standard of Living in i860 







Standard of Lining 

IN 18 6 0 

American Consumption Levels 
on the Eve of the Civil War 








This book owes its existence to Professor Chester W. Wright, 
of the University of Chicago. It was he who pointed out to me 
the need for such a study, and upon its completion it was he 
who first suggested that it be published. His painstaking criti- 
cism at all stages has prevented me from feeling too easily satis- 
fied with what I had accomplished. Professors John U.'Nef and 
Hazel Kyrk have also made many helpful suggestions, and their 
comments have sometimes led me to reconsider my earlier gen- 

Credit is due the publishers for permission to quote from the 
following volumes: D. Appleton-Century Company (Everett 
Dick, The Sod House Frontier; and Alvin F. Harlow, Old Way- 
bills ); Arthur H. Clark Company (Harry E. Cole, Stage 
Coach and Tavern Tales of the Old Northwest ); E. P. Dut- 
ton and Company, Incorporated (Oscar Fischel and Max von 
Boehn, Modes and Manners of the Nineteenth Century) ; Harper 
and Brothers (Agnes B. Young, Recurring Cycles of Fashion ) ; 
Harvard University Press (Arthur H. Cole, The American 
Wool Manufacture; and an article by Eli Heckscher in the 
Quarterly Journal of Economics) ; Houghton Mifflin Company 
( Charles Francis Adams , / 835-1915; The Education of Henry 
Adams; and William E. Dodd’s Expansion and Conflict ); 
Alfred A. Knopf, Incorporated (Bessie L. Pierce, History 
of Chicago; and Jefferson Williamson, The American Hotel ) ; 
J. B. Lippincott Company (Ruth E. Finley, The Lady of 
Godey 7 s); Little, Brown, and Company (Ulrich B. Phillips, Life 
and Labor in the Old South) ; Macmillan Company (Arthur C. 
Cole, The Irrepressible Conflict ); Oxford University Press ( The 
Cowells in America) ; L. C. Page and Company (William H. 
Clark, Railroads and Rivers) ; Charles Scribner’s Sons (George F. 
Whicher, This Was a Poet) ; University of Chicago Press (Rich- 
ard O. Cummings, The American and His Food) ; University of 


" C <^ r r , r * ^ t < * T < C 
^ ^ f f f \ f <* * •* * ° C * r * f £ 

’Ncrrtfi 'CaEtolina Press* [Minnie M. Brashear, Mark Twain: Son 
'bf Missouri; ^d'^qto^G/iffis Johnson, Ante-bellum North Caro- 
lina); D. Van Nostrand Company, Incorporated (Zimmerman 
and Franiptpnj, The Family and Society ); and Yale University 
Press (William* E. Dodd, The Cotton Kingdom). 

The American Public Health Association has allowed me to 
quote from A Half-Century of Public Healthy edited by M. P. 
Ravenal; and the Carnegie Institution, from Lewis C. Gray’s 
History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to i860. For 
permission to quote from Erastus F. Beadle’s diary {To Nebras- 
ka in (57) acknowledgment is made to the New York Public 
Library; and from Seth K. Humphrey’s letters ( Following the 
Prairie Frontier ), to the University of Minnesota Press. Miss 
Alice S. Johnson has given me permission to quote from Illinois 
in the Fifties , written by her father, Charles B. Johnson; and 
Marco R. Newmark, who with his brother, Maurice H. New- 
mark, edited the book, from Harris Newmark’s Sixty Years in 
Southern California. 

In addition I have borrowed certain statistical materials from 
Alvin H. Hansen (first published in the American Economic Re- 
view), LeRoy R. Hafen ( Colorado Magazine), Arthur McClung 
Lee {The Daily Newspaper in America [Macmillan Co.]), Rob- 
ert G. Albion ( The Rise of New York Port [Charles Scribner’s 
Sons]), and Wesley C. Mitchell ( History of the Greenbacks [Uni- 
versity of Chicago Press]). 



List of Tables ix 


I. Introduction i 

II. The Production of Foodstuffs n 

III. What People Ate 45 

IV. Architecture and Interior Decoration 83 

V. Housing and Household Operation 106 

VI. Boarding and Lodging 148 

VII. Clothing and Personal Care 181 

VIII. Medical Care and Public Health 220 

IX. Transportation and Communication 248 

X. Governmental and Philanthropic Contributions . . 278 

XI. Education, Reading, and the Church 295 

XII. Leisure and Recreation 343 

XIII. Conclusion: The Standard of Living in i860 .... 393 

Appendixes 405 

Index 439 




1. Consumption of Foodstuffs in the United States at Select- 
ed Periods 72, 

2 . Types of Dwelling House, New York State, 1855 and 1865 . 120 

3. Square Yards of Material Required for Costumes of the 

Well-To-Do in Various Years 186 

4. The Growth of the American Wool Manufacture . . . 189 

5. Expectation of Life at Birth, Massachusetts, 1789-1929 . 220 

6. Number of Doctors in i860 226 

7. Mortality Rates in Seven Cities, i860 and 1930 .. . . . 246 

8. Expenditures of State and Local Governments, i860 and 1932 279 

9. Newspaper Coverage, i860 and 1929 315 

10. Workingman's Budget, Philadelphia, 1851 394 

11. Standard Workingman's Budget, New York City, 1853 . . 395 

12. Typical Budget, New York Businessman, 1857 , 395 

13. Percentage Allocation of Expenditures by American Fami- 
lies, 1850-60 and 1935-36 397 

14. Population in i860 by State and Section 405 

15. Wages in Selected Occupations, i860 ........ 409 

16. Wages in Selected Factories and Mills, i860 410 

17. Wages of Unskilled Labor in Selected Industries, i860 . . 411 

18. Wages of Farm Laborers, 1859-60 412 

19. Wages of Servants and Farm Hands, i860 413 

20. Wages in Selected Industries, i860, by Wage Groups . . 414 

21. Wages in Selected Industries, i860, by Wage Groups . . .415 

22. Index Numbers for Real Wages, 1820-1900 415 

23. Consumption of Milk in Thirteen States, Year Ending June 

30, i860 4*7 

24. Retail Meat Prices, Massachusetts, i860 418 




25. Retail Prices of Dairy Products and Eggs, Massachusetts, 


26. Retail Prices of Cereal Products, Massachusetts, i860 . . 

27. Retail Prices of Fruits and Vegetables, Massachusetts, 


28. Retail Food Prices, Illinois, January, 1856 

29. Retail Food Prices, Lawrence, Kansas, September 22, 1855 • 

30. Retail Food Prices, Denver, July 9, 1859 

31. Retail Food Prices, China Town, Nevada, June ii, 1859 . . 

32. Retail Food Prices, Salt Lake City, i860 

33. Average Monthly House Rent in Manufacturing Towns, 


34. Monthly House Rent in Various Cities, i860 

35. Estimated Construction Costs for Country Houses, 1851 

36. Estimated Construction Costs, 1857 

37. Retail Price of Coal per Ton in Various Cities, i860 . . , 

38. Retail Price of Wood per Cord in Various Cities, i860 . . 

39. Price of Board per Week to Laboring Man, by States, i860 . 

40. Price of Board per Week in Various Cities, i860 .... 

41. Advertised Prices, Men’s Fall and Winter Qlothing, Octo- 
ber 24, i860 

42* Advertised Prices, Men’s Summer Clothing, June 27, 1857 . 

43. Length of Working Day in Various Industries, i860 . . . 

44. Length of Working Day in 350 Firms, by States, i860 . . . 

45. School Attendance in i860 

46. Library Facilities in i860 by Section and State .... 

47. Summary of Library Statistics, Eighth Census, i860 . . . 

48. Rhees’s Estimate of the Number and Size of Libraries, 1859 

49. Public Libraries Lending Twenty Thousand or More Vol- 
umes Annually, 1859 


















4 35 





The nature of economic history . — The function of the economic 
order — of any economic order — is to get goods produced and dis- 
tributed among consumers, and the measure of success of the 
economic order is the level of consumption it makes possible. 

This is not to say that economic considerations are the only 
important ones. We can imagine a society so organized as to 
produce goods in abundance and distribute them equitably, yet 
oppressive to the human spirit. But such a society, unless it 
bore within itself the seeds of a progressive deterioration in pro- 
ductive effectiveness, would be entirely successful viewed purely 
as an economic order . However important these other considera- 
tions may be, they do not come within the scope of economics as 
it is usually understood. For economics is, essentially, an analy- 
sis of the effectiveness with which resources necessarily limited 
in amount are combined in the production of goods to satisfy 
the limitless wants of consumers. 

Economic history is an extension of this analysis through 

The object of economic history is to show how scarce or insufficient means 
have been used for human ends throughout the ages; how the character of this 
problem has changed or “developed”; what these situations and changes in 
them have been due to; how they have reacted upon other sides of human life 
and human society. As far as I can see, this covers the whole field, and noth- 
ing but the field, of economic history . 1 

1 Eli Heckscher, “Quantitative Measurement in Economic History,” Quarterly 
Journal qf Economics , LIII (1939), 167-68. Heckscher goes on to say: “The applica- 
tion of such a program becomes, of course, extremely different in different hands, and 
it leaves room for very different ideologies or views with regard to the deciding factors 
of social life and social change; but this problem comes later and need not concern us 
here. Here it is enough to state that our object is the same as that of studying present- 
day economic life 'in being/ with one extremely important qualification, i.e., the addi- 
tion of social change.” 



If we accept this as our objective, our immediate problem is to 
find out how people actually were using “scarce or insufficient 
means .... for human ends” at various times in the past; then, 
if possible, to fit these glimpses into a pattern of continuous his- 
torical development — to explain how and why the level of con- 
sumption changed and why it changed where and when (and at 
the rate) it did. A more detailed knowledge of the economic life 
of earlier times ought also to make it easier to discover the con- 
nection between the functioning of the economic order and 
other aspects of human activity. It ought to aid us in under- 
standing the relationship of the economic order to the form of 
political organization and to the framework of social institu- 
tions. It ought to throw light on the problem of relating mate- 
rial well-being to culture generally — to artistic creativeness and 
intellectual achievement and to human happiness. 

The problem of measurement . — It is these latter problems — 
problems of a more speculative order — which appeal most to the 
imagination. I do not wish to minimize their importance or to 
suggest that consideration of them be postponed until we have 
assembled more facts about the past. What I am suggesting is 
that those of us who are not competent to deal with these more 
philosophical problems should not despair of making some con- 
tribution to their solution : anything we can discover about the 
past will aid the philosopher in interpreting it. I do not need to 
emphasize the inadequacy of our knowledge of earlier levels of 
material well-being. Our historians have told us much about the 
lives of the rich, the well-born, the politically powerful; but only 
rarely have they aided us in understanding the lives of the much 
greater number of ordinary people. It should be one objective 
of the economic historian to forestall too hasty conclusions 
based on misconceptions of the life of the people as a whole. 
This he can do by making available as much information as he 
can assemble about the level of consumption and the frame- 
work of economic organization in earlier times. 

If we are to approach economic history by way of the stand- 
ard of living, how are we to measure economic progress ? Can we 
reduce the standard of living (or, more properly, the level of liv- 



ing) 2 at any one time to an index number and focus our attention 
on the trend of these index numbers ? Our desire to be “scien- 
tific,” to avoid vagueness and abstraction, makes this tempting. 
Such index numbers, however, become meaningless if compari- 
sons are to be made between levels of living widely separated in 
time or space: qualitative differences are as significant as quan- 
titative differences. What sort of index number could we use to 
compare the level of living in i860 with that of 1940? In i860 
there were no telephones, radios, electrical refrigerators, wash- 
ing machines, vacuum cleaners, or electric lights, no automobiles 
and no hard-surfaced roads. The list of consumers’ goods which 
are in common use now but were not available to anyone in 1 860 
is a long one, and expenditures on these goods now make up a 
large part of consumers’ expenditures. I see no way around this 
difficulty. I have made as much use as possible of quantitative 
data, 3 but the greater part of the material presented in the fol- 
lowing pages is descriptive rather than statistical. The historian 
has to utilize a great deal of information which cannot be ex- 
pressed in measurable units, and this is much more true of an 
earlier period than of the present. 

It must be confessed that this is a rather discouraging pros- 
pect. We have to talk about economic “progress,” and yet we 
cannot measure it. I suspect that this is why economic histori- 
ans have largely devoted their pages to the people as producers, 
not as consumers. The usual economic-history textbook can tell 
the reader much about the organization of production; but it 
tells him little about the effectiveness of that organization, even 
as measured in terms of material well-being. Nevertheless, an 
accurate knowledge of the level of consumption of all classes of 
the population is a prerequisite to the understanding even of the 

2 The term “standard of living” is frequently used as an expression of what ought to 
be. As such it depends upon, but is to be distinguished from, the actually existing level. 
In the chapters which follow I shall use the terms “level of living” or “level of con- 
sumption” interchangeably to mean the actual level and “standard of living” only 
when I wish to emphasize the normative aspect. 

3 Not only is much desirable statistical data for earlier periods completely lacking, 
but much of that which is available is of doubtful reliability. I have frequently in- 
cluded with such data my impression as to what confidence is to be placed in them. 



recent history of one’s own country. The economic historian 
must do the best he can, using such statistical data as are avail- 
able and have meaning, but more often simply describing how 
people have lived at different times and at different places. 
Such descriptions can make evident, perhaps even vivid, pro- 
gressive changes in the level of living. 

Our general knowledge cannot be regarded as a satisfactory 
substitute for considered description. A person is familiar with 
the level of living of his own class in his own time; he knows 
little about living conditions in the past and frequently is sur- 
prisingly ignorant even about the lives of his contemporaries in 
higher- or lower-income groups. If we assume for the past a 
level of living higher than actually existed — if, for example, we 
fail to realize how large a proportion of the people in this coun- 
try were living in one-room log cabins even as recently as 1 860 — 
we underestimate the material progress our economic order has 
made possible; 4 it is equally possible to err in the opposite direc- 


The year i860 . — It is my wish to make some contribution to 
an understanding of economic history by describing the level of 
living at one time and place — the United States on the eve of 
the Civil War. If I can make clear what that level was, anyone 
who is interested can evaluate for himself the significance of 
subsequent changes. It would have been much more interesting 
and much more valuable if I could have made, as I went along, 
comparisons with the level of living at some earlier date — pos- 
sibly at the end of the “Colonial period.” But to do this I should 
have had to devote as much time to research into this earlier 
period as I did to research into conditions in i860; this I have 
not had time to do. When material for making such comparisons 
has been easily available I have used it; otherwise attention has 
been directed solely to the period under consideration. There is 
less need for comparing consumption in i860 with "that at a 
later date, for one’s general knowledge of the present can be 

4 We cannot say, of course, that it was the institutions of this economic order which 
‘‘caused'* such material progress. 



supplemented by the abundant information easily available. A 
comparison in quantitative terms with the present would also be 
less useful because of the greater changes which have taken 
place in the range of articles consumed. 

There are several reasons for choosing the year i860. For one 
thing, it marks the close of the “middle period” in American 
history, and it is customary to break up American economic his- 
tory into much the same periods as have been used in the ex- 
position of American political and social history. By choosing 
the year i860 as the subject for our study we can see what 
progress had been made in satisfying human wants by the end 
of this middle period. 5 

My own interest is in this year as a terminal point in economic 
history. One does not need to accept the interpretation of the 
Civil W ar_ a j uma x kmg th .e.. v ictory q£ kuiusixialxapitalism-w er 
planter capitalism, popularize d by Charles an d Mary Beard and 
by . Louis M. JHacKer , to dis cover m thatwar the end of one 
pe riod and the beginning of another . The w ar ended, in form at 
least, N egro slaver y and cha nged the whole economic pattern of 
o ne section of the country. T he war itself, as I shall have occa- 
sion to point out repeatedly, had a marked effect in stimulatin g 
the mass-production industries, which up to that time had been 
almost nonexistent. The production of standardized commodi- 
ties — particularly foodstuffs and clothing — for the hundreds of 
thousands of soldiers made it possible for industry to take ad- 
vantage of the new technology. The accumulation of fortunes 
from war profits made possible capital expansion , as did also the 
incr easing use of th e rornorat-p-fnrm of business organization, 
with its capacity for enlisting the savings of small investors. 
Many other factors contributed to this growth of industrial cap- 
italism, including the higher tariffs of the post-war period, the 
i mmigratio n of unskilled workmen, the increase in population, 
and its growing u rbanizatio n. The population had a large pur- 

$ Most of my material relates to the whole period of a decade or so before the Civil 
War. When it is possible to select a specific year, I have chosen i860, which is not only 
the last year before the outbreak of hostilities but was a “normal” year — recovery from 
the panic of 1857 was nearly complete, but there was no boom. 



chasing power (itself partly the result of the growing indus- 
trialism) and displayed a singular readiness to consume stand- 
ardized products. 

After the Civil War, then, the pattern of steady though slow 
development in all spheres of economic life suddenly lost its 
uniformity. It is an oversimplification to say that before the 
Civil War the economic organization was characterized by farm- 
ing and by production in the home and in small mills and work- 
shops and that after the war production was concentrated in 
large factories, which used large amounts of capital and hired 
for wages urban workers who had no other occupations and no 
property of their own. Yet such simplifications, if one is careful 
to remember their limitations, can be highly useful in under- 
standing what changes were taking place. It is important that 
we should be clear as to what level of living had been made pos- 
sible by the older, less industrialized, economy. 

There are no real revolutions in economic organization, and 
we cannot expect to find any one year in which there was a radi- 
cal change in all phases of economic life. The year i860 marks 
no definite turning-point in immigration, in urbanization, in 
transportation; even in industry the production on a large scale 
of standardized commodities was not wholly an innovation. 
This raises interesting problems: What use had the economy 
made of the large number of immigrants who had come over 
before i860, and how did their level of consumption compare 
with that of the older stock ? What light does the growing size of 
cities throw on urban living conditions as compared with those 
in rural areas? What effect had the railroads and steamboats 
had upon consumption, and how much higher would the level of 
consumption have been if there had been still better transporta- 
tion facilities? 

The scope of the study . — I have included, as essential to a com- 
plete picture, all the things on which people spent their money 
in i860, either directly or through government expenditures. 
This includes both "necessities” and “luxuries,” both goods and 
services; it includes expenditures for education, for recreation, 
for religious and charitable enterprises. It includes, in other 



words, all the things which make use of those limited resources 
— human resources, natural resources, and capital — with which 
economists are concerned. It seems to me that this breadth of 
scope requires no justification: If resources are used for one 
thing, the same resources cannot be used for some other thing — 
if people contribute to foreign missions, the missionaries them- 
selves are automatically removed from the numbers of those 
producing goods for home consumption. It is true that such ex- 
penditures as these probably had little effect upon the level of 
consumption, and for that reason I have given them little space. 
In general, I have tried to allocate the space devoted to the 
various elements of consumption in accordance with their im- 
portance in the family budget. 

I have also thought it best, in an exploratory study of this 
sort, to include all classes of the population and all sections of 
the country , 6 being comprehensive rather than detailed. This 
makes my problem more complicated, since the level of con- 
sumption of the country as a whole cannot be reduced to a 
single average or type. The consumption of the rich differed 
from that of the poor, that of the urban dweller from that of the 
farmer or villager, and there were significant differences in living 
conditions in different parts of the country. Most of my infor- 
mation has come from sources so general as to preclude any 
precise classification of the various consuming groups, but some 
sort of distinctions must be made. 

For the sake of simplicity in exposition I have grouped the 
states and territories into t hree geographical areas : the North, 
the South, and the Frontier. Nlone of these can be defined rig- 
idly (Pennsylvania, for instance, was certainly not a frontier 
state, yet millions of its acres were still uninhabited ). 7 The line 

6 While I have included the slave population, I have excluded the Indians, who had 
little effect upon the rest of the economy. Little space has been given to military and 
trading posts and to such groups as traders and trappers. On the other hand, I have 
given more space to frontier conditions than the proportion of the frontier population 
to the rest of the population would justify. Not only were there wide variations in 
frontier living conditions, but the contrast between the Frontier and the more settled 
areas is a help in understanding how much “progress” there had been in the East. 

7 Cf. Charles Manfred Thompson and Fred Mitchel Jones, The Economic Develop- 
ment of the United States (New York: Macmillan Co., 1939), p. 134. 



dividing the North from the South, as I have drawn it, runs 
along the Ohio River and the southern edge of Pennsylvania. 
This puts Missouri in the North, Delaware and Maryland in the 
Soutlv^aTtlassjiftcSSon which can be justified only as a matter 
of convenience. All the cou ntry lying to the west of Wiscons in, 
Iowa , M issouri^ Arkans as, a nd Loui siana I have ealTeriT hp 
“ Frontier .” 8 From time to time I have departed from this pat- 
tern to use other geographical groupings called for by the cir- 

The United States was stillwgtf^dQguaaat ly rural in i86 0. 
New York City, with 805,651 inhabitants, and Philadelphia, 
with 565,529, were the biggest cities; and the eight largest cities 
— New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn (then a separate city), 
Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Chicago — had a 
combined population of only 2,500,000 — about a twelfth of the 
total. Only a n eighth o f the population lived iiyatiea aL&fiQp 
or more inhabitants. Since most of the population was rural, we 
should be especially interested in living conditions on the farms, 
while we should be interested in city life chiefly by way of con- 
trast and for the light it throws on underlying forces. Although 
information concerning farm life is hard to find, where the level 
of consumption was significantly different I have tried to give 
separate consideration to the “urban” and “rural” populations; 
only rarely has it seemed worth while to make such additional 
distinctions as “small town.” 

For the most part I have described the members of the popu- 
lation as being of the “well-to-do” or of the “poor” or laboring 
class. The information available does not permit of careful defi- 
nition of even these two groups, and both terms have been 
used rather loosely.® 

Leisure in i860 . — A special importance attaches to the matter 

8 This is primarily on the basis of density of population (see Appen. A, Table 14). 
With the exception of Florida and Arkansas, all the states and territories I have classi- 
fied as “Frontier" had populations of less than ten to the square mile. 

9 Since I have used a considerable amount of price data in the text and in the ap- 
pendixes, I have included, as Appen, B, a section on “Incomes in i860," without which 
the price data could have little meaning. I have not, however, tried to define “well-to- 
do" or “poor" in terms of income received; see also pp. 393-94* 



it from over the archway of the gate. The simple lines and clean 
whiteness of the chorten made a marked contrast to the very drab, yet 
overdecorated Chinese pagoda of baked mud on the shore behind us. 
Upriver, a high mountain projected from the range that extended 
along the northeastern horizon. About halfway up its almost vertical 
face, we could just make out a horizontal line of one-story, boxlike 
buildings, with a massive, equally square structure in the center. All 
were white, with a strip of red painted around the upper portion, 
looking clean and severely plain at this distance. 

Even before the steersman told me what it was, I recognized it as 
a lama temple. Both the buildings and their choice of location looked 
very Tibetan, as indeed they were ; for the Mongols, when they bor- 
rowed the Lama religion from the Tibetans, three centuries ago, had 
absorbed a lot of foreign cultural elements along with it. Without 
having visited this particular temple, I knew from previous travels in 
eastern Inner Mongolia and along the borders of Tibet that the 
interior of this lama shrine would have gilded images, vividly colored 
paintings, and fine, brocaded hangings. 

“Any chance of stopping for some pictures”? asked Walter Hill, 
an amateur photographer. His question echoed my own thoughts. 
I was eager to see the place, and have the others see it, as an intro- 
duction to Mongolia. Unfortunately, the steersmen said it was some 
distance off the main road, down a dubious ox-track where we might 
get stuck in the sand, and we had already been delayed long enough 
in the long journey from Chungking. For the time being, we had 
to be content with this distant view. 

When the ferry grounded on the far bank, and the doctor — who 
doubled as alternate truck driver — got the six-by-six safely ashore, 
we had a long wait. It would be some time before the other scow 
arrived with our trailer and the extra crates of gear, unloaded to 
lighten the truck. Meanwhile, leaving two men to guard the truck, 
the rest of us who had come over on this trip walked up past the 
small inn-buildings that made up the “village” of Shang-tu-k’ou, to 
see the chorten and the gate. 

We found the chorten ruined. Chinese soldier-bandits had torn 
off the gold-plated finial atop its slender spire, and had smashed in 
the front of it to steal the small handful of offerings included with 
its holy relics. This was a foretaste of what we were to find all too 
often in Inner Mongolia, where border Chinese with guns have taken 



why and how they have taken place. If the level of living was 
higher in i860 than it had been earlier, why was it higher? And 
why wasn’t it higher still? Was the economy making full use of 
the resources and the technology then at its disposal? These are 
difficult questions. The authors of America's Capacity To Con- 
sume could claim no high degree of accuracy for their estimates 
of what could have been produced at the time they were writ- 
ing, despite all the material available to them. The making of 
any satisfactory estimate as to what might have been produced in 
i860, as compared with what was produced, is probably impos- 
sible; in any case it would take me away from my primary ob- 
ject. I have, however, tried to explain in general terms why the 
level of consumption was what it was — the forces tending to- 
ward raising the level and the circumstances which stood in the 
way of greater increases. At times I have been unable to resist 
the temptation to point out where I think the level could have 
been higher than it was, with the resources then available. 

Finally, since this is an essay in American economic history, I 
have tried to discover whether there was anything distinctiv e 
about the “American” standard of livi ng. Was it higher than 
other standards, was it lower, or was it just different? I think 
t here were some distinctive features about the American stand- 
ard of living; but I %lso think that the greater importa nce 
Amerfcans hav e attached i to the’^ 

si gnificant tha n any differences in the standard itself. The rais- 
in ^oF tKeTtan dar d ofllvmg^ 

great go'aTFfl^ uft deriyrng^fh a t 

belief have seldom been examined critically. 




Expenditures for food . — Of all the commodities and services 
which it is the function of the economic order to provide, food is 
the most important. Studies of family budgets leave no room 
for doubt on this point. The National Resources Committee has 
estimated that in the year 1935-36 about a third of all expendi- 
tures made by American families were for food; for the two- 
thirds of the families with the lowest incomes something over 
two-fifths of all expenditures were for food. 1 

There were no such budgetary studies made for the fifties; 
but the few estimates that were made (which may or may not be 
typical) seem to indicate that an even larger proportion of fam- 
ily income was spent for food before the Civil War — as, indeed, 
one would expect. A budget in the New York Tribune for May 
27, 1851, cited by Richard O. Cummings, 2 indicates the alloca- 
tion of the weekly expenditures of a Philadelphia family of five: 
of the $10.37’! total, $4.26! ( 41 per cent) went for food._ Other 
estimates, not cited by Cummings, would not change the pro- 
portions very much. The New York Times printed a “standard 
workingman’s budget” for New York City, in 1853, supposed to 
apply to a laborer, his wife, and two children, “living moderate- 

1 National Resources Committee, Industrial Committee, Consumer Expenditures in 
the United States; Estimates for 1935-1936 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 
1939), Tables 5 A and 7 A> pp. 78-79. For the lowest third (incomes under $780 a year) 
42.9 per cent of total expenditures were for food; for the middle third (incomes from 
$780 to $1,450) 38.2 per cent went for food; and for the highest third (incomes of $1,4 50 
and over) 29.0 per cent went for food. For the population as a whole, 33.6 per cent of 
total expenditures were for food. 

a The American and His Food (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), p. 242. 
This and the other budgets mentioned in the paragraph are given in full in chap, xiii, 




ly.” Of the total annual expenditures of $600.00, groceries ac- 
counted for $273.00, or 45.5 per cent. Hunt’s Merchants’ Maga- 
zine estimated in 1857 that a New York businessman, with an 
annual income of $1,500.00, would spend $415.66 (31.3 per cent 
of the $1,329.91 spent for current consumption) on food and 
liquor. This last estimate, if it can be regarded as typical of ex- 
penditures in that income scale, illustrates the "law” that the 
proportion spent on food decreases as the income increases. A 
$i. <oo income was distinctly a high income in i860, and even 
tK'e first two budgets '^uT 31 ravirl 5 eeh outof range of the greater 
part of the population. I have the impression that the ordinary 
city family would have spent close to 50 per cent of its income 
for food and that the same could be said of farm families, if food 
consumed on the farm be included in income. 3 

Even such statistical evidence cannot indicate the real im- 
portance of food. Expenditures for food contain much less of 
the "conventional” element than do expenditures for even 
clothing and shelter. That, as family income increases, smaller 
proportions are spent for food does not mean that food is less 
important to the rich than to the poor. What it means is that 
one can eat only so much food; and, while those who can afford 
it can eat more expensive foods (and waste more), their desire? 
for greater variety and finer quality in foods are less expansive 
than their other desires. This suggests another reason for giving 
special attention to food production and consumption: until the 
economy produces an ample amount of food, the main effort 
must be to produce it; beyond that point the increasing propor- 
tion of productive resources which can be directed to the pro- 
duction of other goods causes their production (and consump- 
tion) to rise faster than income. Former "luxuries” quickly be- 
come “necessities.” 

* Professor Hazel Kyrk suggests, by way of confirmation, that farm families produced 
more food at home than nonfarm families and that the larger the proportion of food 
home-produced, the larger proportion it is of all consumption. It is also to be remem- 
bered that in i860 there was a much larger proportion of farm families in the whole 
population than at present, which — if it is true that food makes up a larger proportion 
of consumption of farm than of city families — would also tend to make the percentage 
of rtational income allocated to food relatively large. 




Variety available . — Every kind of meat n ow customarily ob- 
tainable was obtainable in the fifties — obtainable, that is, in 
some part of the country and at the proper season. Pork was the 
staple meat product for the country as a whole, but there were 
lamb and mutton, veal and beef. There was poultry to be had: 
chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl. Besides these more 
commonplace meats, to which the destruction of wild life has 
very largely limited our own diets, there was then an abundance 
of game. In one part of the country or another there were to be 
found squirrel, rabbit, possum, coon, deer, antelope, and bear; 
prairie fowl, doves, quails, and plover; woodcock, snipe, grouse, 
pheasants, and wild turkeys; there were wild ducks and geese 
and even cranes and storks. Fish there were of all kinds, the 
product of commercial fisheries or of one’s own catching — ocean 
fish, lake fish, and river fish, as well as shellfish of all varieties. 

Meat-packing was confined largely to the local curing and 
packing of hog products. Most slaughtering was done by farm- 
ers in winter, who, after satisfying their own demands, sold 
the remainder of the carcass to a neighboring storekeeper or 
small packer, who cured it for the market. 4 There were numer- 
ous small slaughterhouses in eastern cities; 5 in the South there 
were not so many, as the plantations did their own slaughtering 
and curing. 6 In t!6o, a s now, meat -packing was essentiall y a 
in/Lidtrv ; but in that year the pork-packers of Cincin- 
nati packed only 434,499 hogs, and Chicago had yet to pack 

4 U.S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States , 1900: Manufac- 
tures , IX, Part III (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902), 413. 

s More than 350 packing-houses, with a product valued at $32, 000,000, were listed 
by the Census (U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States: Manufactures 
[Washington: Government Printing Office, 1865]). Something about Philadelphia 
meat-packers may be found in Edwin T. Freedley, Philadelphia and Its Manufactures 
(Philadelphia: Edward Young, 1858), p. 268. 

6 Cf. Emily P. Burke, Reminiscences of Georgia ([Oberlin, Ohio]: James M. Fitch, 
1850), pp. 26-27; Susan Dabney Smedes, A Southern Planter (London: John Murray, 
1889), p. 47; Ralph B. Flanders, Plantation Slavery in Georgia (Chapel Hill: Univer- 
sity of North Carolina Press, 1933)5 P- * 59 ; Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, American Negro 
Slavery (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1936), pp. 312-13; and other accounts 
of plantation life. 



stretched on endlessly to the north, east, and south. To the west 
rose the mountains we had seen when looking northward from the 
ferry. Now they loomed dark against the setting sun. Only the 
deep shadows cast by the last rays of sunlight gave any character to 
the landscape. Otherwise it had a uniformly drab aspect that seemed 
repellent to us. 

We sighted several large herds of black and white sheep and goats 
grazing on distant slopes, a sign that the country was fairly well set- 
tled; but one of the fellows spoke the thoughts of all of us when he 

“Why should people want to live in this dreary place at all !” 

As we returned to camp we were followed by a small herd of 
mangy, summer-thin camels, who appeared as if from nowhere. 
They seemed equally obsessed by curiosity about us, and a desire to 
drink from the well-trough. The camels were followed in turn by a 
herd of sheep driven by a scared-looking Mongol herdboy in a heavy 
sheepskin coat with the wool inside. When we stopped there, we had 
not seen any sign of life for miles. Now, with camels, sheep, and 
finally a herd of goats from the other direction, the place was 

In time the animals drifted off and, as it was fast getting dark, 
we began to think about turning in. Now we could see the reason 
for the boy’s sheepskin coat. As soon as the sun went down an icy 
breeze sprang up from the north. It pierced right through our light 
summer khakis. When we left subtropical Chungking in sweltering- 
heat, we had not expected to find such extremes in climate, and had 
not brought enough bedding for sleeping out in such a place. We 
finally solved the problem by turning in fully dressed and pulling the 
blankets over our heads, thus shutting out the cold, and the beauty of 
the stars. 

Next morning we were wakened at dawn by the loud braying of 
an indignant she-camel being led to the well by a Chinese home- 
steader who must have lived nearby. Her protests seemed uncalled 
for, as she was only carrying two empty wooden water-buckets hung 
from the usual camel’s pack-saddle. The latter was made of two long, 
burr-filled bags of coarsely woven goat hair, pressed firmly against 
either side of the sagging humps by a pair of stout poles, the ends of 
which were lashed together by hair ropes where they projected be- 
yond the humps, fore and aft. The driver was leading her by a 



of the oyster fishing was done along the Atlantic Coast from 
Virginia to New York . 12 

The transportation of meat . — The probl em in iftfiaw as not one 
of production, but one of transportation and refrigeratio n. Be- 
fore the coming ot theTailroad, pork-packing had been less im- 
portant than beef-packing, because it was easier to drive cattle 
long distances on the hoof. The railroads brought more and 
more swine to the packing-house centers ; 13 but I have the im- 
pression that the greater number of the livestock was still 
driven, not carried, to the packing-house or slaughterhouse. 
The great western cattle drives of romantic fame were still in the 
future; but already the leading cattle-raising states were Texas, 
Missouri, and Iowa rather than those of the East; the yearlings 
were sent to Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana for fattening before 
being moved on to the stockyards. In these states the need for 
driving cattle and hogs to market played a large part in deter- 
mining land values around the packing towns. 

In the East, where distances were short, the cities could draw 
upon the surrounding territory for live and dressed meats ; 14 and 
the westward extension of the railroads early in the fifties meant 
that the East could be supplied with cured meats— though not 

ing Office, 1866), p. 527. The total product of the fisheries for the census year was 
$13,664,805, of which more than half ($7,749 ,305) was whale, and nearly a third 
($4,183,503) cod, mackerel, herring, and similar fish. Whitefish caught in northern 
lakes made up $464,479; oysters were valued at $7 56,35°; salmon (principally from 
Pacific Coast rivers), $51,500. The Census pointed out that a large number of the popu- 
lation divided their time between fishing, farming, and other occupations, and so were 
unreported. More detailed information on the fisheries is to be found in ibid., pp. 529- 
42 ‘ 

12 One estimate put the annual Chesapeake oyster trade at 20,000,000 bushels, 
mostly consumed by coast cities {Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXIX [1858], 226). 
For other estimates and additional information about the oyster trade see Eighth 
Census: Mortality and Miscellaneous , pp. 540-41 ; BeBow's Review , XXIV (1858), 259, 
and XXX (1861), 1 12-14. Baltimore annually packed about $3,000,000 worth of 
oysters (at about 35 cents a bushel), half raw in ice, half in tins; about half the pack 
was shipped to western cities, even as far as California. 

*3 How great this effect of the railroad was and how quickly it occurred are illustrated 
by the fact that by 1854-55 Chicago’s hog pack was already three times as great as that 
of cattle (Bessie L. Pierce, A History of Chicago [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940], 
II,97) * 

*4 Note the large shipments of meat and livestock into New York City over the Erie 
Railroad as early as 1846 {Niles Register , LXXI [February 27, 1847], 4°3)- 


that, had he lived, he might have be- 
come ‘the dominating figure of his 
generation and a wholesome and in- 
spiring influence on younger men’. 
Kathleen Tiilotson’s Warton Lecture 
on English Poetry, Matthew Arnold 
and Carlyle, is an excellent study of 
the relationships that existed between 
the two writers. 

Essays by Divers Hands , 40 edited 
this year by Angela Thirkell, contains 
nine papers, most of them concerned 
with poets and poetry. In an interest- 
ing lecture on Keats, Lord Norwich 
counters the legend that the poet’s 
death was hastened by adverse criti- 
cism of Endymion or by a hopeless 
passion for Fanny Brawne. Keats’s 
temperament was much more robust 
than his physique, and the real damage 
was done by his walking-tour in Scot- 
land in the summer of 1818, which 
aggravated his consumption. In A 
Modem Approach to the Gospels 
E. V. Rieu develops his belief that the 
four accounts we have of Christ’s 
ministry were ‘truly founded on the 
reports of the original eye-witnesses’. 
But the Evangelists interpolated ideas 
and events ‘which either arose out of 
their own religious imagination or 
were imposed upon them by the com- 
munal mentality of the Christian so- 
cieties for which they severally wrote’. 
Speaking on Tennyson and his times, 
Viscount Esher shows how Tennyson 
‘embodied in beautiful language the 
illusions of the Victorian age’; he him- 
self, however, ‘had a character un- 
affected by, and conspicuously remote 
from, the benign and uplifted atmo- 
sphere of his own poetry 1 ; he was ‘a 
restless and unhappy man, full of un- 
accountable moods’. The Hon. C. M. 
Woodhouse attempts an interpreta- 
tion of Shelley’s famous dictum, ‘Poets 

40 Essays by Divers Hands: Being the 
Transactions of the Royal Society of Litera- 
ture . N.s., Vol. XXVIII. Ed. by Angela 
Thirkell. O.U.P. pp. xiii+157. 15$. 

are the unacknowledged legislators of 
the world.’ He decides that ‘it is legis- 
lation in the sense that changes the 
outlook and character of mankind 
that Shelley meant; and he meant 
mankind as a whole’. C. Day Lewis’s 
subject is the poetry of Edward 
Thomas, in which he finds ‘both the 
awkwardness and the irresistibleness 
of absolute sincerity’. In The Two 
Worlds of Coleridge Louis Bonnerot 
studies ‘the curious relationship be- 
tween the double aspiration of Cole- 
ridge’s mind towards “the little” and 
“the great”, as exemplified in the 
Quantock Poems’. This paper contains 
some perceptive analysis of the ‘con- 
versation poems’. Guy Boas speaks 
about John Evelyn in his character of 
‘virtuoso’, with illustrations from his 
‘numerous and variegated writings’. 
Cyril Falls gives an interesting ac- 
count of the relations that existed 
between Penelope Rich and the poets 
of her day. Finally, in Countries of 
the Imagination James Laver dis- 
cusses literature which takes the 
reader, and writer, into countries of 
escape or vision: from the Revelation 
of St. John to the work of the Bolshe- 
vik poet who saw his dream-world in 
Chicago, from medieval romances to 
the novels of Ethel M. Dell. 

The second volume of Sprache und 
Literatur Englands und Amerikas 41 
contains three philological articles: 
Neue Ausdrucksmittel im Englischen 
als Ersatz der Flexion , by Bogislav 
von Lindheim; Verwechselbare Lett - 
und Schliisselworter im Englischen 
und Deutschen , by Wolfgang Schmidt- 
Hidding; and Der englische Wort - 
schatz als Forschungsgegenstand, by 
Ernst Leisi. Eustace M. W. Tillyard 
contributes an essay on Reality and 

41 Sprache und Literatur Englands und 
Amerikas : Lehrgangsvortriige der Akade- 
mie Comburg , ed. by Carl August Weber, 
with Rudolf Haas and Hermann Metzger. 
Vol. II. Tubingen: Niemeyer. pp. 164. 
DM. 10. 



cutting of ice was a considerable business during the coldest 
months / 9 and apparently it was kept in icehouses in sufficient 
quantity to be fairly cheap even in summer. The shipment of ice 
from the North to the South had begun at the turn of the cen- 
tury, and ice had become a normal article of trade, coming both 
from the Northeast and the Northwest. 

The preservation of meat . — The almost complete absence of 
household refrigeration 20 meant that the use of fresh meat could 
not be very economical, and the lack of refrigerated facilities for 
transportation and storage would have prevented any great use 
of fresh meat anyway. During the northern winters there was 
some freezing of beef for home consumption. On the whole, 
however, if meat was not to be eaten soon after being slaugh- 
tered, it had to be cured or pickled. Hams and bacon were usu- 
ally smoked and salted, the rest of the hog pickled in strong 
brine . 31 Beef, when preserved, was corned, salted (dried), or 
pickled; but salt beef was notoriously dry and tough. To “jerk” 
beef was to cut it into strips, dip them in brine, and dry them; 
frequently jerked beef was powdered and mixed with other 
foods or food products. Occasionally a strong meat broth was 
mixed with flour to form “meat biscuits .” 22 The use of such 

19 The development of special equipment for cutting ice, about 1827, made the prod- 
uct much cheaper (Cummings, pp. 37-38). Readers of Thoreau will recall his descrip- 
tion, in Walden, of the cutting of ice in Walden Pond and the reflections to which it led 
him. (In the Concord edition [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1893], of which Walden is 
Vol. II, this passage is to be found on pp. 324fF.) 

It was estimated that in 1854 New York State harvested about 340,000 tons of ice 
and that Boston in the same year shipped 156,540 tons (. DeBow's Review , XIX [1855], 
70 ff.; Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXIII [1855], 169-79; see also Eighth Census: 
Manufactures , p. 737; New York, Secretary of State, Census of the State of New York for 
1855 [Albany: Charles Yan Benthuysen & Sons, 1857], P* 44 2 5 Census of the State of 
New York for 1865 [Albany, 1867], p. 497). 

20 See below, pp. 46-48. 

ai The Ladies' Repositary (XX [January i860], 54), recommended another means of 
preserving ham for summer use — packing it in slices in stone jars and covering it with 
lard just warm enough to run. Whether such methods were much used I have no way 
of knowing. 

33 One of Borden’s earliest patents was for a meat biscuit intended for use by gold- 
rushers (James Leander Bishop, A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 
i860 [Philadelphia: E. Young & Co., 1868], II, 544-45). It was of Borden’s biscuit that 
Olmsted wrote: “After preparing a substantial dish of it, according to the directions, 
we all tried it once, then turned unanimously to the watery potatoes’’ (p. 81). 



unpalatable foods as pemmican, jerked beef, and meat biscuit 
was largely confined, to the Frontier, and especially to travelers 
across the plains. Fish might be preserved in a number of ways 
— salted and dried, smoked, potted, baked, pickled, marinated, 
preserved in oil, or pounded into a dry mass. 

The early history of commercial canning is now fairly well 
documented.* 3 The real development of the industry came after 
1850, based upon the canning of Baltimore oysters, Maine lob- 
sters, and (possibly) sardines. Oyster-canning had been an es- 
tablished business as early as 1850, and by i860 had benefited 
from such technical improvements as that of opening the oysters 
by steam. The development of the canning industry around 
Chesapeake Bay is particularly interesting. Here within a small 
area were oysters, crabs, and fish; peaches, apples, plums, ber- 
ries, and other fruits. The climate was ideal for tomatoes, and 
the location was close to a labor supply and to transportation 
facilities. Here and elsewhere along the coast, canneries began 
operating on a year-round basis, alternating the canning of 
oysters, lobsters, crabs, and fish with that of fruits and vegeta- 
bles. The canning process then used involved cooking after can- 
ning, with the result that the product lost bulk and became 
unappetizing in appearance; not until the seventies was this cor- 
rected. The industry was using stamped tin cans with extension 
edges, and tops and bottoms put on by a “pendulum press”; 
improvements in canning were made only slowly, and the proc- 
esses — trade secrets — were purely empirical. Not until the 
Civil War made it necessary to provide troops with large quan- 
tities of provisions which would keep did the output become 
large enough to have much effect on food consumption. 

Meat markets. — Boston’s Faneuil Market was 585 feet long 

aa Among the most useful sources are the following: James H. Collins, The Story <f 
Canned Foods (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1924); Earl Chapin May, The Canning 
Ckn (New York: Macmillan Co., 1937); U.S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of 
the United States y 1900: Manufactures , Vol. IX, Part III: “Special Reports on Selected 
Industries” (Washington: Government Printing Office, 190a); U.S. Bureau of the 
Census, Census cf Manufactures , 190$: Canning and Preserving y Rice Cleaning and 
Polishing , and the Manufacture of Beet* Sugar (Bull. 61) (Washington: Government 
Printing Office, 1906); Edward S. Judge, “American Canning Interests,” One Hundred 
Years of American Commerce , 1 , 396-400. 



and 50 feet wide, on a base of blue Quincy marble; it was di- 
vided into numerous stalls for the sale of all sorts of meat, fish, 
poultry, and vegetables. 24 Here Charles Edward Bolton, new to 
the big city, was greatly impressed by the quantity of food sold, 
and the Englishman Weld by the use of ice to keep the foods 
fresh. 23 Of another Boston market James M. Phillippo wrote: 

Quincy Market is a splendid edifice of granite, and is the most clean, com- 
modious, and best supplied of any market in the United States. The abundant 
supply of wild fowl, together with poultry of all kinds, successively exhibited 
here, is astonishing to a foreigner . 26 

Besides these there were the Blackstone, Boylston, Franklin, 
Gerrish, St. Charles, South, Washington, and Williams mar- 
kets. 27 

But if we may judge conditions in other cities by what we 
know to be true in New York, visitors were likely to be so im- 
pressed by the size of the markets and the variety they offered 
as to be oblivious to less attractive features. Alfred Pairpont, 
for instance, wrote: 

The Washington and Fulton Markets of New York are of great extent, and 
supplied with an almost endless variety of the choicest articles of food — meat, 
poultry, fish, vegetables, and fruits from all parts, which are conveyed hither 
by steamboat and sailing craft — also by the numerous railways from the in- 
terior . 28 

The city inspector, in his report for i860, refers to these same 
markets in quite different terms: 

They are a singular agglomeration of rotten wood, wornout masonry, and 
collected filth, without system in their construction, or any visible appearance 
which would enable the stranger to discover why they are permitted to exist. 
Should this description be regarded as too extravagent, all doubt upon the 

3 4 R. L. Midgley, Sights in Boston and Suburbs (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 
1856), pp. 11-13* 

3 $ Charles K. Bolton (ed.), “A Journey to Maine in 1859: A Diary of Charles 
Edward Bolton,” New England Quarterly, IX (1936), 122; Charles Rich Weld, A Vaca- 
tion Tour in the United States and Canada (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and 
Longman, 1855), p. 38. 

36 The United States and Cuba (London: Pewtress & Co., 1857), P* 2.57. 

*7 The Boston Almanac , i860 (No. 25) (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1860), p. 181. 

98 Uncle Sam and His Country (London: Simpkins, Marshall & Co., 1857), PP* 19 ~ 3 °- 


on her passages, and indicates their 
sources. The extracts are also avail- 
able from the British Council in re- 
cordings made at Cambridge under 
the direction of George Rylands. 

Gwyn Williams, whose Introduc- 
tion to Welsh Poetry was noticed in 
YW xxxiv. 9, has now produced, in The 
Burning Tree 55 an excellent antho- 
logy of Welsh poetry, ranging from 
the work of Aneirin and Taliesin to 
that of poets who wrote at the turn 
of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen- 
turies. The title The Burning Tree , 
derived from a passage in the Mabi- 
nogion, was chosen ‘to suggest an 
outstanding mood of the Welsh poet, 
the awareness at the same time of con- 
trary seasons and passions, a mood in 
which the poet brings into one phrase 
the force of love and war, of summer 
and winter, of holy sacrament and 
adulterous love’. Williams has fol- 
lowed the admirable practice of print- 
ing the original texts parallel with the 
translations; and he has provided an 
informative foreword on the poets 
and the spirit and technique of early 
Welsh poetry. 

In Early Irish Lyrics 56 Gerard 
Murphy has also given parallel texts. 
Rather more than half of the sixty 
poems in this collection are monastic 
in origin, and they include some fine 
meditative verse, and poems also on 
other preoccupations of the cloister, 
especially study. The secular poems 
represent a great variety of topics: 
lament for a dead warrior and lament 
on the loss of a pet goose, love-affairs, 
and the trees of Ireland; and there are 
several poems from the Finn-Cycle. 
This anthology should be of special 

55 The Burning Tree: Poems from the 
First Thousand Years of Welsh Verse, 
selected and translated by Gwyn Williams. 
Faber, pp. 234. 25s. 

56 Early Irish Lyrics: Eighth to Twelfth 
Century , ed. with Translation, Notes, and 
Glossary by Gerard Murphy. O.U.P. pp. 
xxii-j-315. 42 a\ 

value to those who are interested in 
the Celtic revival of recent times. 

Two new volumes of short stories 
have been added to the World’s Clas- 
sics. The second series of Modern 
English Short Stones 51 edited by 
Derek Hudson, is a sequel to the 
volume collected by Phyllis M. Jones 
before the war, and contains a score 
of stories written since 1930. In Welsh 
Short Stories 58 Gwyn Jones presents 
twenty-six stories by eighteen Welsh 
writers of recent years, with a critical 
introductory essay. These two selec- 
tions between them provide some 
stimulating reading, and give a very 
good picture of what has been done 
in the short story during the last two 
or three decades. 

7. Translations 

Several interesting translations have 
appeared in the course of the year, 
about half of them in the admirable 
series of Penguin Classics. In this 
series Philip Vellacott follows up his 
two volumes of Euripides with the 
new version of the Oresteia 59 of Aes- 
chylus which he was commissioned 
by the B.B.C. to write. For the episodic 
sections of the plays Vellacott uses a 
free hexameter, and for the choruses 
a variety of lyrical forms which on the 
whole reproduce pretty closely the 
‘feel’ of the originals. These versions 
read easily, and, as the broadcasts 
showed, they also speak well. In a 
short introduction Vellacott fills in 
the legendary and dramatic back- 
ground of the trilogy and provides 
some critical comments. 

57 Modern English Short Stories: Second 
Series , selected with an Introduction by 
Derek Hudson. (The World’s Classics.) 
O.U.P. pp. xiv-f-362. Is. 

58 Welsh Short Stories, selected and with 
an Introduction by Gwyn Jones. (The 
World’s Classics.) O.U.P, pp. xv-b330. Is. 

59 Aeschylus. The Oresteian Trilogy: 

* Agamemnon \ ' The Choephori’. ‘ The 

Eumenides *, translated by Philip Vellacott. 
Penguin Books, pp. 201. 2s. 6d. 



Street. Tallack mentioned Philadelphia’s “large and well-sup- 
plied market-houses.” 33 Pittsburgh, in 1852 and 1853, built the 
Diamond, a new city hall and market place. 34 In Cincinnati the 
markets extended for a mile along the streets, where were to be 
found beef and pork, eggs, poultry, and other sorts of meat; fish 
came there from Lake Erie by train, oysters from Baltimore, 
game from the prairies. 35 St. Louis had ten market-houses. 36 
Markets in the South were likely to be rather different from 
those in the North. Savannah’s market, for instance, was mere- 
ly a roof supported by pillars, with a brick floor and a pump in 
the middle. Female slaves sold fresh vegetables the year 
around, and there were fish and shell fish, domestic and wild 
fowl, tropical and other fruits. People came from miles around 
to buy and sell. 37 New Orleans’ “Old French Market” was fa- 
mous. 38 In the West, the Washington and the Metropolitan 
were a “creditable” feature of San Francisco, roofed in and 
clean. The supply of vegetables was great throughout the year; 
fruit of all kinds was plentiful in summer but, except for apples 
and oranges, was scarce during the winter months. Game was 
abundant — venison, rabbits, wild geese, chicks, quail. Alto- 
gether, San Francisco had five public markets, of which two had 
over two dozen stalls each. 39 


Milk . — The growing importance of dairying in New England 
had long been apparent; it was important also in New York 
State and was a specialty of the Western Reserve district of 

33 J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Wescott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 
(Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1884), I, 729; William Tallack, Friendly Sketches in 
America (London: A. W. Bennett, 1861), p. 85. 

3i » Leland D. Baldwin, Pittsburgh : The Story of a City (Pittsburgh: University of 
Pittsburgh Press, 1937), p. 204; George Thornton Fleming, History of Pittsburgh and 
Environs (New York: American Historical Society, Inc., 1922), II, 93* 

33 Thomas Low Nichols, Forty Years of American Life (London: John Maxwell & 
Co., 1864), I, 159. In 1851 there were six market-houses (Cist, pp. 274 ff.). 

^DeBow’s Review , XVI (1854), 400. 

37 Burke, pp. 19-21. 38 See below, pp. 34-35. 

39 Mrs. Redding Sutherland, Five Years within the Golden Gate (London: Chapman 
& Hall, 1868), p. 45; Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California (San Francisco: 
History Co., 1888), VI, 783. 



Ohio v During the fifties butter and fluid milk were displacing 
cheese as a dairy product. But prior to 1 860, while much butter 
and a good deal of cheese were being manufactured, dairying 
received special attention in but few parts of the country, and 
much of the product was inferior in quality. 

In the cities a large proportion of the milk came from “swill- 
milk” establishments — enterprises located within the cities, 
usually in connection with distilleries, which fed their closely 
confined cows on slops and distillery refuse. In 1852 the swill- 
milk establishments of New York City had 13,000 cows. Not 
only was the milk itself of doubtful quality, but it was likely to 
be adulterated. It was estimated that New York City drank 
about 330,000 quarts of milk a day in 1852. Of this, 100,000 
quarts consisted of country milk brought in and 30,000 quarts 
of adulterants added to it; 160,000 quarts were swill milk pro- 
duced in the city, and 40,000 quarts were additions to the swill 
milk. 40 The milk supply of Chicago 41 and other cities was about 
as bad. There was practically no regulation. Massachusetts in 
1856 took the lead by prohibiting adulteration of milk and in 
1859 the feeding of distillery waste; 43 and New York State in 
1861 made swill milk illegal. 

Milk is even more subject to rapid bacterial action than is 
meat and consequently requires to a still greater degree refriger- 
ation and rapid transportation. In the years preceding the Civil 
War the greater advances had been in transportation. The rail- 
roads made it possible for the big cities to draw on larger areas 
for their supplies of milk. By the fifties the Harlem Railroad 
alone was bringing in over 70,000 quarts a day, some of it from 
“nearly a hundred miles.” 43 Chicago had obtained its milk “on 

4 » “The Milk Trade of New York," Hunt's Merchants’ Magazine, XXVIII (1853), 
682-89, based on John Mullaly, The Milk Trade in New York and Vicinity (New York: 
Fowler & Wells). 

** Pierce, II, 461-62; see also Arthur Charles Cole, The Irrepressible Conflict , i8$o~ 
1865, in Arthur M. Schlesinger and Dixon Ryan Fox (eds.), A History cfl American 
LifCy YII (New York: Macmillan Co., 1934), 181- 

4 * Edmund F. Vial, “Milk Supply,” Encyclopedia qf the Social Sciences , X, 475-80, 

43 Appleton's Illustrated Railway and Steam Navigation Guide , January , i860 (New 
York: D. Appleton & Co., 1860), p. 84. 


the hoof” in the early days, but by 1853 it was being shipped in 
over the Galena Railroad, soon to be called the “Milky Way.” 
During the last six months of 1854, 27,338 gallons of milk were 
brought to Chicago over that line. 44 There was practically no 
refrigeration of milk. Hunt's Merchants’ Magazine , commenting 
on a table which showed that in i860 only two-fifths of the milk 
produced was consumed as fluid milk, suggested that this pro- 
portion would have been much higher if there had been any way 
of keeping milk fresh until it got to market. 45 Nor was there 
much preservation of milk by condensing it. Borden’s processes 
had been patented in the fifties, and by i860 he was selling 
unsweetened condensed milk from 40-quart cans on pushcarts 
and sweetened condensed milk in tins. But the whole output 
was too small to be of commercial importance. 46 

Other dairy products . — The production of butter in the United 
States as a whole amounted to 14.6a pounds per capita (21.5 
pounds in the Middle states, somewhat more than 16 pounds in 
the New England and southern states, 6-8 pounds per capita in 
the regions farther west) ; and, allowing for exports, the average 
per capita consumption would have been 14.35 pounds, as com- 
pared with 17.28 pounds during the five-year period, 1926-30. 47 
In the absence of domestic refrigeration it was difficult to keep 
butter fresh. It was frequently kept in the cellar, sometimes in 
the well shaft. 

44 Pierce, II, 461. 

45 See Appen. C, Table 23. 

46 Collins, pp. 93-96. The only milk condensary (Borden’s) reporting to the Eighth 
Census ( Manufactures , p. 738) had an output for the year valued at $48,000. 

47 Report of the Secretary of the Treasury: Transmitting a Report from the Register of the 
Treasury , of the Commerce and Navigation of the United States, for the Year Ending June 
jo, i860 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1861), pp. 13, 195; U.S. Census 
Office, Eighth Census of the United States, i860: Agriculture (Washington: Government 
Printing Office, 1864), pp. lxxii, lxxxv; U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Com- 
merce, U,S. Statistical Abstract, LVII (1935), Tables 508-9, 588-89, 592 (pp. 455, 502, 
603, 605). 

Total production reported to the Eighth Census was 459)681,372 pounds, net ex- 
ports were 7,648,957 pounds. The figure for the recent period was obtained by adding 
to average factory production and imports the estimated farm production (1929)) 
subtracting the exports, and dividing the net total by the average population. 



The production of cheese in the census year i860 was 3.29 
pounds per capita (6.89 in New England, 6.15 in the Middle 
states, less than 3.00 in other regions), and consumption only 
2.84 pounds per capita, as compared with 5.45 pounds in 1929. 48 

In the early part of the century, making ice cream had been a 
laborious task which involved beating the cream with a spoon 
and then agitating the container by hand in an ice-and-salt mix- 
ture, but by the middle of the century the familiar form of mixer 
equipped with crank and paddles had appeared. 49 It was re- 
ported in i860 that more than 20,000 freezers of one type had 
been sold in three years. 50 

Eggs. — I have found no estimates of the production or con- 
sumption of eggs before the Civil War. That there was some 
shipment of them to consuming centers is indicated by the fact 
that Norfolk, in 1852, shipped about 1,800 barrels of 100 dozen 
eggs each, packed in oats. 51 I think it is probable that most 
farmers kept a few chickens and so had enough eggs for their 
own families; the difficulties of shipping and storing them may 
have kept city consumption at a minimum, especially in the off- 
season. There were various ways of keeping eggs, most of which 
involved coating them with some impervious substance to close 
the pores and packing them in bran, salt, ashes, powdered char- 
coal, cornmeal, or limewater. 


Crop production. — The few years preceding the Civil War had 
been years of rapidly increasing productivity in agriculture. 
Not only was there new farm machinery, 52 but there was greater 

48 Eighth Census: Agriculture , pp. lxxx-lxxxv; Commerce and Navigation Report , i860, 
pp. 15, 197; Statistical Abstract \ Tables £09, 533, 603 (pp. 502, 557, 612). Production 
for i860 was 103,663,927 pounds; net exports, 14,191,742 pounds. 

49 Cummings, p. 40. 

50 “Modern Ice Cream, and the Philosophy of Its Manufacture/* Godey's Lady's 
Book , LX (May, i860), 460-61; a picture and description of the freezer are also given. 

51 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXIX (1853), 266. 

Sa “By the improved plow, labor equivalent to that of one horse in three is saved. 
By means of drills two bushels of seed will go as far as three bushels scattered broad- 
cast, while the yield is increased six to eight bushels per acre; the plants come up in 


use of natural and artificial fertilizers, crop rotation was being 
practiced, and there was some selection of seed to overcome 
plant pests and diseases. The widespread interest in agricul- 
tural improvement is shown in the circulation of farm papers 
and in the membership in agricultural societies. Meanwhile, the 
expansion of transportation facilities was making it possible to 
exploit western lands where the new equipment and methods 
were particularly suitable. In the East, in many sections, cereal 
crops were declining in importance, in the West rapidly increas- 
ing. The five states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and 
Iowa, which in 1839 had supplied one-fourth of all the wheat 
and corn produced, by 1859 were supplying one-half. The use of 
the reaping machine and other farm machinery of recent origin 
was confined almost entirely to the large farms of the West; 
elsewhere the old hand implements and methods were still used. 

Of the grain crops, corn continued its undisputed lead. The 
Eighth Census showed a production of 839,792,740 bushels, of 
which 3,265,515 bushels were exported, as well as some in the 
form of corn meal. 53 The amount exported was highly variable 
but, during the decade of the fifties, ran well over the 1 860 figure 
except in 1859. Production of wheat was 173,124,904 bushels 
(5.50 bushels per capita). With deductions for exports (ap- 
proximately 15,897,082 bushels of wheat and wheat flour), there 
was an apparent per capita consumption of about 4.99 bushels — 
little different from the average consumption of about 4.80 
bushels for the years 1926-30, although the differences in the 
form in which it was consumed may have been considerable. 54 

Production of other cereal crops was as follows: rye, 21,101,- 
380 bushels (0.66 bushels per capita); oats, 172,643,185 bushels 

rows and may be tended by horse-hoes The reaping machine is a saving of more 

than one- third the labor when it cuts and rakes The threshing machine is a saving 

of two-thirds on the old hand flail mode The saving in the labor of handling hay 

in the field and barn by means of horserakes and horsehayforks is equal to one half” 
(. Eighth Census: Agriculture , quoted by Cummings). , 

S 3 Eighth Census: Agriculture , p. xlvi, Commerce and Navigation Report , i 86 o y p. 49. 
Per capita production of corn was about 26.12 bushels; but this figure has little signifi- 
cance, owing to the effect of holdovers and because so much corn is fed. 

Eighth Census: Agriculture , p. xxix; Statistical Abstract , Table 644 (p. 648). 



advanced readers will enjoy the wit 
and the fresh presentation of old 
themes, and they will profit from 
Whatmough’s enthusiasm for the ap- 
plication of mathematics to linguistic 
study. The most interesting feature is 
the exposition of his theory of ‘selec- 
tive variation*, on which the index 
might have added the page references 
84, 115, 170. Among the regrettable 
features is the continual absence of 
supporting references to important 
statements and claims, the offering of 
statements for which no proof has 
ever to the present writer’s knowledge 
been worked out, the appearance of 
highly technical and incommunicable 
telecommunication jargon beside 
‘popular’ statements like ‘“naughty” 
itself is literally “good-for-nothing” 
and chatty absurdities. Even in some 
of the best sections, Whatmough’s lin- 
guistic insight seems rather dubious. 

Although subtitled A New Ap- 
proach to Greek and Latin Literature , 
Whatmough’s other book this year 4 
has also a good deal to say about 
‘selective variation’ and his mathema- 
tical theories. It is full of obiter dicta 
on almost every aspect of linguistic 
usage, scholarship, and autobio- 
graphy. Literary critics come in for 
a severe drubbing, but though it is 
fairly clear that Whatmough sees their 
‘subjectivity’ as a crime, he does not 
make it equally clear how they might 
do better. The chapter called ‘Religio 
Grammatici’ is subtitled ‘Understand- 
ing, Not Criticism’, and if we were to 
agree that the latter does not normally 
subsume the former, we might be at 
the kernel of his objection, destructive 
and constructive. The book is enter- 
tainingand learned, and while it leaves 
one confused it undoubtedly fires the 
imagination and enthusiasm continu- 

4 Poetic, Scientific and Other Forms of 
Discourse, (Sather Classical Lectures 29.) 
California U.P. $5. 

Now that Pedersen (in Danish and 
in Spargo’s translation) has become a 
rare book, one is all the readier to 
welcome a full-scale history of lin- 
guistic science, of which we stand in 
great need. The achievement of 
Arens’s Sprachwissenschaft 5 is most 
impressive and the book will be of 
great value, particularly with regard 
to the nineteenth century, for the bulk 
of this work deals — like Pedersen’s — 
with the rise of scientific comparative 
studies. But if Pedersen was at fault 
in dealing inadequately with the con- 
tribution to linguistics of English- 
speaking scholars, Arens is much 
more so. It is astonishing to find the 
index of a work like this including 
Stalin but not Ellis, Murray, Sweet, 
Wright, Craigie, or Daniel Jones. Our 
earlier scholars come off better (both 
Bacons, Hickes, Horne Tooke, James 
Harris, Locke, Sir William Jones, inter 
alia): indeed, one of the pleasing fea- 
tures of the work is the account of 
linguistic analysis in the earlierperiods 
—in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and 
the centuries leading up to the dis- 
covery of Sanskrit by Western scho- 
lars. But it is for the magnificent 
account of the nineteenth century that 
the book will be chiefly valued. The 
modern period is dealt with inade- 
quately, but no matter: this is the 
period of fully developed self-con- 
sciousness in linguists and we are well 
equipped with their apologiae. 

For the reappearance of another 
German book on language we are in- 
debted to A. Scherer, who has done 
an excellent job in bringing up to date 
Giintert’s useful and widely read 
work. 6 A further book, All about Lan - 

5 Sprachwissenschaft: Der Gang Ihrer 
Entwicklung von der Antike bis zur Gegen - 
wart, by H. Arens. Karl Alber. pp. x-f 568. 

6 Grundfragen der Sprachwissenschaft, 
by H. Guntert. Second edition. Rev. by 
A. Scherer. Heidelberg: Quelle and Meyer, 
pp. 155. DM. 5.80, 



dough through all the baking processes, and using up to 800 
barrels of flour a day. 38 But these bakeries failed to revolution- 
ize bread-baking; and, while there must have been a great deal 
of baking by the old-fashioned bakeries, business historians 
have ignored them in their interest in the large-scale baking of 
biscuits, crackers, and shipbread. By the middle of the fifties 
the original products of “pilot bread” and hard, “cold-water” 
crackers had been supplemented by soft or butter crackers, 
square soda crackers, and round sugar biscuits, all made of fer- 
mented dough and containing shortening. 39 Production of mac- 
aroni and similar products was unimportant. 


Gardens and orchards . — I can think of no other consumption 
goods in which actuality fell so far short of potentiality as it did 
in vegetables and fruits. Here I intend only to suggest what the 
possibilities were; in chapter iii I shall say more about actual 

That there was a great variety of garden vegetables available 
to those who were wealthy enough to buy them or who were 
willing to take the trouble to grow them is shown by the garden 
manuals of the fifties. 60 These give directions for the home cul- 
tivation of such vegetables as artichokes, asparagus, beans of 
various kinds, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, car- 
rots, cauliflower, celery, chive, citrons, collards, cress, cucum- 
bers, eggplants, endive, kale, lettuce, leeks, okra, onions, oyster 
plants (salsify), parsnips, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, 
rhubarb, rutabagas, spinach, squash, sweet corn, sweet pota- 
toes, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips, and water cress; and others 
to be used for seasoning and sauces. (This does not include field 

58 For descriptions of these bakeries see Harper s Weekly , I (January 3, 1857), 2 i 
Scientific American , XIII (1858), 301; Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), p. 267; 
Isaac D. Guyer, History of Chicago: Its Commercial and Manufacturing Interests and 
Industry .... (Chicago: Church, Goodman, & Cushing, 1862), pp. 172-73. 

Frank A. Kennedy, “The Biscuit Industry,” One Hundred Years of American 
Commerce , II, 447-48; see also Freedley, p. 267. 

60 E.g., Robert Buist, The Family Kitchen Gardener (New York: C. M. Saxton & 
Co., 1855). 


corn, which as a vegetable could be prepared in a number of dif- 
ferent ways.) 

Not only were these vegetables known and, to some extent, 
actually grown; there were only a small proportion of the popu- 
lation living in such crowded conditions that they had no garden 
space. While there was little leisure, it is hard to believe that no 
member of the family had time enough to do a little gardening. 

Much the same thing can be said of fruits. Up to the fifties 
there had been little care in the selection of varieties of fruit 
trees or in the maintaining of them. But by i860 there were 
numerous state and national horticultural societies, with annual 
congresses; and there were several state and national horticul- 
tural journals. With the fifties there came a number of books on 
horticulture, 61 describing in detail many kinds of fruit and their 
cultivation: apples, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, 
pears, plums, and quinces; grapes, currants, gooseberries, 
ground cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, mul- 
berries, barberries, whortleberries (huckleberries), blueberries; 
pomegranates (for the southern and south Middle states); and 
lemons, limes, oranges, and citrons (cultivated in Florida and 
to some extent in California). In Florida wild sour-orange trees 
had been transplanted and grafted with sweet-orange buds. 62 
Some enthusiasts were endeavoring, but without success, to 
spread the cultivation of such fruits as figs and olives. In the 
West wild fruits and berries, including mandrakes (May apples) 
and pawpaws besides the more familiar varieties, took the place 
of cultivated fruits; 63 but in such states as Michigan and Illinois 
large orchards were beginning to bear. 

6l E.g., P. Barry, The Fruit Garden (Auburn, N.Y.: Alden & Beardsley, 1855); 
S. W. Cole, The American Fruit Book (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1854); A. J. 
Downing, The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America (rev. ed.; New York: John Wiley, 
1861); F. R. Elliott, Elliott's Fruit Book (New York: C. M. Saxton, 1854); Thomas 
Gregg, A Hand-Book of Fruit Culture (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1857); and John J. 
Thomas, The American Fruit Culturist (Auburn, N.Y.: Derby, Miller & Co., 1849). 

62 James D. B. DeBow, The Industrial Resources , etc. 3 of the Southern and Western 
States (New Orleans: Office of DeBow' s Review , 1852-53), I, 350-51. 

63 There is some reason to believe that the consumption of wild fruits, especially 
berries, was fairly large even in the East — perhaps even in New England. 



We can hardly say of these fruits, as we can of vegetables, 
that they should have beep available to everyone. Some of them 
were not suited to domestic cultivation at all, and many of them 
were rather exacting as to soil and climatic conditions. Many of 
them do not begin to bear until years after planting. They were, 
as a rule, more perishable than vegetables, less easily kept or 
marketed. Nevertheless, there were a few easily cultivated an- 
nuals and various kinds of berries, which the working classes 
might easily have grown for themselves. 

Among nuts, chestnuts, English and black walnuts, filberts, 
hickory nuts, and butternuts were domestically produced; but 
attempts to introduce the production of almonds had not been 
successful. What fruits and nuts could not be produced at home 
— dates and figs, for instance, and almonds and cocoanuts — 
could be imported. Even tropical fruits— bananas and pineap- 
ples — were to be had . 64 

Surrounding all the large cities were truck gardens supplying 
fruits and vegetables for the city trade. There were hundreds of 
acres devoted to the production of tomatoes for the New York 
market and other hundreds of acres in Cape Cod, producing 
cranberries . 65 Eastern Virginia and Maryland did what seemed 
an immense business in supplying truck produce for the north- 
ern market, though handicapped by the impossibility of refriger- 
ating in transit . 66 During the decade there was a great develop- 

«4 Imports of fruits and nuts for the fiscal year i860, as given in the Commerce and 
Navigation Report , i86o 3 were as follows: 

Currants . 
Dates . . . 


Plums . . . 
Prunes . . 
Raisins . . 
Almonds . 

5,844,947 pounds 



a to c finn 

r)fibf»r fniit 




Preserved fruit 


Otbrr nuts 








65 Andrew Jackson Downing) Rural Essays (New York: Leavitt & Allen, 1853) 
p. 71 ; One Hundred Years' Progress, p. 85; Alfred Henderson, “American Horticulture,” 
One Hundred Years 0} American Commerce , I, 248-56. 

« Avery O. Craven, Soil Exhaustion as a Factor in the Agricultural History of Vir- 
ginia and Maryland, r 60 6 — I S '60 (' Studies in the Social Sciences of the University of 
Illinois,” Vol. XIII, No. 1 [Urbana, 111 . : University of Illinois Press, 1926]) ; Andrew M. 
Soule, “Vegetables, Fruits and Nursery Products, and Truck Farming in the South,” 


ment of fruit nurseries and orchards, and each year millions of 
new fruit trees were set out. Orchards were being started in the 
South (Georgia was then trying to grow oranges) and in Cali- 
fornia, as well as in the states of the old Northwest; and vine- 
yards were planted along the Ohio, where the Catawba grape 
was especially popular. 67 

Preservation and transportation of fruits and vegetables . — 
For the most part, perishable fruits and vegetables were con- 
sumed only in season; at other times of the year dependence was 
on those which could be kept without much difficulty. Navy 
beans, which could be kept the year around, were in many 
regions a staple foodstuff and so, to a lesser extent, were onions. 
Potatoes, cabbages, and root crops — turnips, parsnips, beets, 
carrots — were easily kept in a “root cellar” 68 or buried. Geo- 
graphical differences in consumption were due not so much to 
different growing conditions as to differences in the possibilities 
of storage: Irish potatoes, which ripened quickly and had to be 
dug in weather too hot for storage, were used in the North, 
while in the South sweet potatoes, maturing in the autumn, 
were the staple vegetable. 

Despite the progress made in commercial canning, most of the 
preserving was done in the home by methods which had been in 
common use for many years. Some fruits and vegetables were 
dried, some packed in syrup or in hermetically sealed jars. 69 

South in the Building of the Nation , V, 236-42; see also DeBow's Review , XXV (1858), 
226; and Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXIX (1858), 753. How this trucking area 
appeared to an observant northerner is recounted in Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey 
in the Seaboard Slave States (New York: Dix & Edwards, 1856), pp. 6-7. 

67 One Hundred Years' Progress , p. 82; Harper's Weekly , I (January 31, 1857), 77; 

Owen C. Coy, The Humboldt Bay Region , 1850-1875 (Los Angeles: California State 
Historical Association, 1929), pp. 113-14; William Chambers, Things as They Are in 
America (London: William and Robert Chambers, 1854), p. 159; Percy W. Bidwell 
and J. I. Falconer, History of Agriculture in Northern United States , 1620-1860 (Wash- 
ington: Carnegie Institution, 1925), pp. 380-81; see also production statistics in Census 
of the State of New York for 1855 , PP* 320-26; and Census for 1865 , pp. 400-409. 

68 “Under the most splendid house in the city is still to'be found the cellar where they 
store their roots as of old” (Thoreau, Walden , p. 49). 

69 Such canning supplies as glass bottles and earthenware jars and the new self- 
sealing cans (sealed by screwing the cover upon a rubber compress or by warming the 
cover and pressing it down upon a rim of cement) were commonly sold by country 
stores (Cummings, p. 85). 



Apples were dried, but more commonly packed away in barrels 
in the cellar. Apricots and peaches were dried or hermetically 
sealed; I think they were occasionally packed away in ice, 
though this was certainly not common. Tomatoes were usually 
put up in jars, 70 but sometimes were baked and dried. Grapes 
were packed in sawdust or bran, and other small fruits were 
hermetically sealed or preserved in sugar. (Most of the recipes 
given in the women’s magazines called either for a great deal of 
sugar or for wine or brandy.) Corn was occasionally parched or 
pickled, though usually stored in the crib without any process- 
ing. Cabbage could easily be preserved as sauerkraut. 

The commercial canning of fruits and vegetables was develop- 
ing in much the same fashion as that of meats, and packers were 
canning pickles, catsups, sauces, jellies, jams, and mustard, and 
a variety of fruit, tomatoes, and corn. Canners were still proc- 
essing their foods by boiling, and the industry was still a small- 
scale business, centering in Maryland, but with some firms 
farther north. 

One can find numerous instances of apparently speedy and 
efficient transportation of vegetables and fruits. In 1852 a Chi- 
cago commission merchant imported green peas from New 
Orleans in May by express; and three years later the Chicago 
Press stated that, since the extension of the railroad to the 
Ohio River, people in southern Illinois enjoyed fresh fruits no 
sooner than they did. 71 Berries were shipped in ice down the 
Mississippi to Louisiana; the Illinois Central was putting special 
fruit cars on its passenger trains to speed the movement of fruit 
to Chicago; and Oregon apples were sold, in California. Other 
fruits were coming in from abroad — oranges and lemons from 
Sicily, bananas, pineapples. 72 The most important part of the 
trade, however, was the shipment from South to North. Georgia 
and Carolina fruitgrowers, responding to urban demands, had 

7 ° Not in tin cans, as was later common even for home canning. 

7 * Cummings, p. 58. 

7 * Cummings (p. 65) cites a newspaper item reporting that in January, 1859, a vessel 
sailing from Puerto Rico with a cargo of 300,000 oranges discharged but 90,000 at its 
destination, New Haven. The rest had rotted during the voyage. 



begun to ship fruit from inland points to the seaports, from 
which steamboats took them north; 73 there was also some ship- 
ment of citrus fruit from Florida. 

The New York markets were especially well supplied. The 
Camden and Amboy Railroad, from Camden to New York, had 
been started in 1838, largely for the benefit of market gardeners 
and from the nature of its traffic was commonly known as the 
“Pea Line.” It began with occasional trips made by two cars; 
but demand increased steadily, and the road proved profitable, 
so that by 1840 trips were made daily, often with as many as 
sixteen cars, loaded with peas, peaches, potatoes, asparagus, 
livestock, and produce generally. 74 On a single night in June, 
1847, the Erie’s milk train brought in 80,000 baskets of straw- 
berries; and by 1855 the strawberry business of New York City 
was said to be the largest in the world. 75 Other railroads were 
bringing in fruit and vegetables from the North and West. One 
effect of this was to lengthen the seasons during which fruits and 
vegetables could be purchased in the market. Between 1835 an d 
1865 the strawberry season was lengthened from one month to 
four, the grape season from four to six, the peach season from 
one to six, and the tomato season from four months to the full 
year. The season for sweet corn was increased from one month 
to five months, that for string beans from one month to nine 
months. 76 

Nevertheless, we should be on guard against exaggerating the 
effect of this. It was only the populous districts of the North- 
east which could exert sufficient demand to make such ship- 
ments possible; and probably these were the only districts 
where the transportation was adequate to permit a very large 
segment of the population to draw on the outside for its supply 
of fruit and vegetables. Only the beginnings had been made in 
the transportation of early fruits and vegetables from South to 
North and the products of the western market gardens and 

nDeBow's Review , XVII (1854), 629. 

74 B. H. Meyer (ed.), History of Transportation in the United States before i860 
(Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1917), p. 385. 

75 Cummings, p. 57. 76 Ibid., p. 59. 


2 5 

Japanese textiles: coarse cotton prints, plain silk fabrics in bright 
colors, and even rich satins for those who could afford them. Other 
sections seemed less specialized, displaying assorted trinkets and 
knickknacks to appeal to the farmers who came in to trade. We 
noted fancy buttons, spools of thread (Japanese), foreign soap, and 
primary school readers with a pronounced Nationalist bias. 

On repeated visits, we noticed that one counter was usually bare. 
A dealer told me that this was not from lack of merchants. Many 
were simply unwilling to pay the rather high taxes for the privilege 
of selling in the market. In fact, a considerable number of people 
just spread their wares on the ground outside, along the sides of the 
adjoining alleys. In wet weather, when the alleys became creeks, 
they raised their things on planks. Here, outside the market proper, 
the farmers sold their meats and vegetables. On very hot days we 
would buy melons from them to quench our thirst. But what inter- 
ested us more were the junk dealers, who spread their secondhand 
goods here, in a sort of flea market. We rarely visited town without 
a glance in at the junk section. One of us usually managed to pick 
up something fairly interesting — a handsome, hand-woven saddle 
rug, a brocaded Mongol vest, a Buddha looted from a lama temple, 
or a Mongol knife or snuff bottle. 

When we were in town near mealtime, we generally stayed in, as 
the camp cook had no imagination, and his meals were pretty terrible. 
Sometimes four or five of us would ride in for supper, just for a 
change of diet. A late afternoon canter always improved the ap- 
petite. Occasionally we dropped in on three Army boys who had 
recently come to Shanpa for AGAS. Their cook was as good as 
ours was bad, and they were fine hosts. More often we went to 
some Chinese inn. 

We would tether our horses in the public stable yard, and after a 
short prowl through the market place, come back to eat at one of the 
restaurants on the main cross street of town. They never had a 
menu. The boy .would bring me an ink slab with a brush and a slip 
of rice paper, and would then stand behind me, whisking away the 
flies with a cow’s-tail switch while I wrote down the order in 

The specialties of the house were fried chicken livers with pun- 
gent “flower pepper” to dip them in, and a “sweet dish” of tart 
peaches or crisp-textured pears, in casings of melted sugar that 



Uses of a Case Illustrated on the 
Genitive in Latin (Lingua), has great 
interest outside Latin studies. Instead 
of the mixed criteria of traditional 
grammar, de Groot determines the 
functions in terms of grammatically 
distinctive uses only, and of regular 
as opposed to irregular and sporadic 
ones. The article is admirably precise 
and clear (except for a number of 
misprints), and it ends with a helpful 
brief index to the special terms used. 
Classification of Cases and Use of 
Cases (in For Roman Jakobson ; see 
note 14) is to some extent a prolego- 
menon to the article just mentioned, 
and de Groot puts his own approach 
in the context of the contributions 
by Jakobson and Kurylowicz to the 
theory of cases. The diagram repre- 
senting the Latin case system is of 
great value, though one would not be 
easily persuaded that the nominative 
is ‘without case meaning’ in contrast to 
the others. In many IE languages the 
nominative is a specifically ‘marked’ 
case (as opposed, say, to the accusa- 
tive) which indicates a definite rather 
than indefinite function. 

According to the English summary 
of O Konkurenci Infinitivu a Gerundu 
v AngliZtine (Casopis pro Modern i 
Filologii), I. Poldauf relies on ‘con- 
tent’ analysis to investigate the rivalry 
between the infinitive and gerund in 
modern English. But it is clear from 
his examples that he sees the impor- 
tance also of collocation for describ- 
ing the usage with regard to these two 
forms, and it may be in fact that this 
would be a more promising approach. 
In the course of Aspect in the Old 
High German of Tatian (L), P. Sche- 
rer usefully discusses his approach to 
the question of aspect and compares 
it with that of H. B. Garey published 
in 1954. Since both scholars are work- 
ing in terms of familiar languages, 
their views are both valuable and read- 
able for linguists whose concern is 

English. Two further articles on Ger- 
man grammar deserve to be more 
widely known, H. Renicke’s Zu den 
neuhochdeutschen Reflexiva and H. 
Niisse’s Die grammatische Struktur 
des Deutschen, both in Zeitschrift fiir 
Deutsche Philologie. The first proposes 
an approach which has considerable 
interest for the similar problems with 
English ‘reflexive’ verbs like wash; the 
second is a consideration of H. Glinz’s 
recent book on German (and general) 

An Approach to Describing Usage 
of Language Variants 1 * is a very im- 
portant contribution to the precise 
description of actual syntax (as op- 
posed to idealized syntax which is so 
common in modern work). Illustrat- 
ing from his research into the factors 
determining the occurrence of dafi or 
zero introducing German noun clauses, 
B. Ulvestad makes a powerful case for 
frequency surveying at the syntactical 
level and thus revealing and ranking 
the formal conditioning factors which 
produce variant structures. Work on 
English syntax along these lines has 
been proceeding for some time and 
cannot fail to benefit from analogous 
studies in other languages such as 
those of Ulvestad. He follows up the 
work just discussed with Statistics in 
Syntactical Description of German 
( MLQ ), in which he seeks to show 
that langue and parole are statistically 
distinguishable, the former corre- 
sponding to high regularity, the latter 
comprising the balance of irregulari- 
ties in a given corpus. He repeats his 
convincing call for statistical surveys 
of syntactical and stylistic construc- 
tions. M. Aborn and H. Rubenstein 
write on Word-Class Distribution in 
Sentences of Fixed Length (L). Having 
taken from popular magazines sen- 
tences six, eleven, and twenty-five 
words long, they classed the words 

13 Memoir 12 of the International Journal 
of American Linguistics. 


very interesting to strangers. Mark Twain, in a letter dated 
June 1, 1857, wrote: 

I visited the French market yesterday (Sunday) morning I thought 

I had seen all kinds of markets before — but that was a great mistake — this 
being a place such as I had never dreamed of before. Everything was arranged 
in such beautiful order, and had such an air of cleanliness and neatness that 
it was a pleasure to wander among the stalls. The pretty pyramids of fresh 
fruit looked so delicious. Oranges, lemons, pineapples, bananas, figs, plan- 
tains, watermelons, blackberries, raspberries, plums, and various other fruits 
were to be seen on one table, while the next one bore a load of radishes, onions, 
squashes, peas, beans, sweet potatoes — well, everything imaginable in the 
vegetable line — and still further on were lobsters, oysters, clams — then milk, 
cheese, cakes, coffee, tea, nuts, apples, hot rolls, butter, etc. — then the vari- 
ous kinds of meat and poultry. 8 s 

And the Countess Pulszky: 

We hastened down Charles Street, and went into the large but unsymmetri- 
cal market-halls on the banks of the river. They were filled with sellers and 
buyers. Meat, fish, vegetables and fruits were spread on the long tables — 
peas, and carrots, and tomatoes, and melons, strawberries, pineapples and 
bananas. Huge plated coffee-kettles, eggs, butter, bread, and mutton-chops 
invited the early riser to breakfast . 86 

Cincinnati’s markets were well supplied with the fruits of the 
region. 87 Even frontier towns had their markets: Denver in 
June, 1859, had on sale in its markets locally produced radishes, 
lettuce, onions, and peas. 88 


Sugar . — Although the commissioner of agriculture was urging 
the cultivation of sugar beets, 89 only in Utah was there any 
refining or use of beet sugar. More than two-thirds of the cane 

8s Quoted in Minnie M. Brashear, Mark Twain: Son of Missouri (Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina Press, 1934), p. I77» 

86 Francis and Theresa Pulszky, White , Red, and Black (New York: Redfield, 1853) 
II, 90. The count and countess, who came over with Kossuth, saw rather more of the 
country ^ than did most visitors from abroad. Their recorded impressions are both 
fresh and revealing. 

Nichols, 1, 159; Chambers, p. 159. 

88 Leroy R. Hafen, Colorado : The Story of a Western Commonwealth (Denver: 
Peerless Pub. Co., 1933), p- 124; cf. Albert D. Richardson, Beyond the Mississippi 
(Hartford, Conn.: American Pub. Co., 1867), p. 297. 

8 9 Eighth Census: Agriculture , Introduction, 



ment of each topic and aspect of San- 
skrit is brief, but it is well supported 
by liberal notes and up-to-date refer- 
ences. It is relevant to mention also a 
work of pure history, Germanische 
Stammeskunde , 19 since it so conveni- 
ently brings together the latest views 
on the complex movement of peoples 
with whose dialects students of Eng- 
lish are concerned. The chapters are 
short and lucid, well illustrated by 
maps and accompanied by reading- 
lists. S. Bergsveinsson, Eine neue 
Brechungstheorie ( Zeitschrift fur 
Phonetik ), is concerned with the Scan- 
dinavian phenomenon, particularly in 
the light of John Svensson’s Lund 
monograph of 1944 and the discus- 
sions that this provoked. In Die 
Anlautgruppen kn- und gn- im Neu- 
englischen ( Zeitschrift fiir Phonetik ), 
E. Gronke examines the theories of 
Horn, Kokeritz, and others regarding 
the process by which kn - and gn- 
yielded n-, and he argues for a medial 

I. Fonagy contributes over 100 
pages, Vber den Verlauf des Laut- 
wandels ( Acta Linguistics Budapest), 
surveying sound-change and the 
changing attitude of linguists to it 
from the time of the Neogram- 
marians. There is a useful collection 
of data on sound-change as it is going 
on today, and account is taken of the 
importance of orthography. As a 
whole, this article is of great value 
and relevance to linguistic scholarship 
and one would like to see it published 
separately. In Internal Reconstruction 
of Phonemic Split (L) J. W. Marchand 
outlines — and demonstrates the suc- 
cess of — a technique for Internal Re- 
construction (i.e. without recourse to 
cognate languages as in comparatist 
reconstructions) through some very 
clear Gothic, Irish, and Lithuanian 

19 By E. Schwartz. Heidelberg: Winter, 
pp. 248. DM. 16.80. 

On the Inherent Laws Governing 
the Development of Language is the 
subject of a 35-page article (Acta Lin - 
guistica, Budapest) by L. Deme, the 
starting-point being Stalin’s pro- 
nouncements on the nature of lan- 
guage and its relation to man’s 
productive and social activity. It is 
an interesting polemical document in 
being one of the more accessible 
attempts to see linguistics in terms of 
Marxism: here indeed is the ‘social 
component’ which Firth often com- 
plains is missing from Western work, 
though one cannot say that Deme’s 
arguments carry complete conviction. 
J. Engels asks Y a-t-il du progres dans 
le langage? ( N ) and weighs Jespersen 
(for) and Vendryes, Bally, and others 
(against); on the whole, he feels the 
answer is ‘yes and no’, depending on 
the time at which and the viewpoint 
from which one is writing. G. Rdvesz 
has a greater problem still: The Ori- 
gins and Prehistory of Language. 2 * 
This psychologist wrote a great deal 
on the origin of language and kindred 
topics (see YW xxxvi. 33), satisfying a 
popular interest in a subject which 
linguists avoid as futile. The present 
scholarly book, well translated, is to 
be welcomed for its information on 
and discussion of the history of such 
inquiry, and there is an excellent bib- 
liography. But it must be admitted 
that the main arguments— the origin 
of language in imperatives and the 
thesis that deductions can be made 
from the languages of primitive 
peoples, for instance — are without 

One is pleased to report another 44 
pages (sections 1 3—20 inclusive) of O. 
Hofler’s long study (see YW. xxxvi. 
33), Stammbaumtheorie, Wellentheo- 
rie , Entfaltungstheorie in Beitrdge zur 
Geschichte der Deulschen Sprache 
und Literatur (Tubingen). From Ger- 

20 Trans, by J. Butler. Longmans, pp. 
viii4-240. 30$. 



When he began the service with the traditional words, “Introibo 
ad alt are Dei ” recited in clear Latin, I could not help thinking that 
it was the strangest altar to our God that I had ever seen. The altar 
itself was a long lacquered table with projecting ends, such as the 
Chinese in more civilized regions place in the shrines to their an- 
cestors. At the back of this was a small box for the Sacrament 
which, in turn, supported a small brass crucifix imported from Bel- 
gium. The table for the cruets and candlesticks against the side 
wall was a brass-studded chest, lacquered red, with mythological 
Chinese monsters romping across its doors. The altar boy had a 
lama temple bell that he rang for the Sanctus and the Consecration. 

Almost immediately the Chinese congregation began a dismal, 
droning chant, led by an old woman with a cracked voice. They 
kept this up with only an occasional pause throughout the service. 
From what little I could understand, it seemed to consist of inter- 
minable prayers that did not have any bearing on the actual cere- 
mony. No doubt it helped to keep up the interest of the Chinese, 
since most of them had no idea what was going on at the altar, but 
to us it was disagreeably distracting. Only the calm sincerity of 
Father Fan gave the service its proper dignity. 

After Mass, on our second Sunday at camp, the week after we 
arrived, the C.O. suggested a visit to Father Schram, who lived some 
three hours’ ride to the north of us. There was no direct road to 
Manhui, the small town where he had his mission station, so we took 
Lao Tsai, the head ma-fu, to help us find the way. 

Old Tsai was not a local man, but he knew this border country 
well and could always be depended on to get us where we wanted to 
go. He was an old border cavalryman, and had served under the 
great Northern warlord Wu P’ei-fu, beside whom General Fu and 
his old boss, Yen Hsi-shan, were smalltimers. When Wu “got re- 
ligion,” Tsai accompanied him to his retreat in a Buddhist monas- 
tery. But life there was too quiet for an old cavalryman. His nar- 
row, weather-beaten face cracked into a wry grin when he told me 
about it. After a year of temple life, he left to join General Fu’s 
army in Suiyuan. Now that he was getting old, he could no longer 
be as active, and he had been lent to the camp, along with the horses, 
to see that they were well cared for. 

It was wonderful to see him with the horses; he was so under- 
standing. It was a great blow to us all — and to the animals, too, 



2.00 pounds of salt in the census year 1 86o was supplemented by 
imports of 1,174,326,060 pounds, giving an annual per capita 
consumption of about 60 pounds — a rather meaningless figure in 
light of the many industrial uses to which it was and is put. But 
a comparison of this with the contemporary per capita consump- 
tion of Great Britain (25 pounds) and France (21.5) makes it 
clear that no lack should have been felt in this country. 98 The 
common use of salted meats and salted foods of all kinds — 
whether the result of taste or of necessity — also seems to show 
that there was plenty of salt. 

Some idea of the consumption of spices and seasonings may be 
obtained from the import statistics. In the year ending June 30, 
i860 — a typical year — the United States imported 1,700,285 
pounds of cassia, 1,240,683 pounds of ginger, 8,424,921 pounds 
of black pepper, 1,603,675 pounds of pimento, and substantial 
amounts of cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, and red pepper. 99 
Peppers and sage were grown at home, and tomato sauce had 
become a popular seasoning. 

Other foods . — The confectionary trade was carried on widely, 
but on a small scale — most of Philadelphia’s two hundred con- 
fectioners did some manufacturing, 1 " and that is probably typi- 
cal. Fancy goods were imported from France. A popular in- 
gredient in desserts was “Russia isinglass” — a gelatine made 
from sturgeon’s air bladders. By the fifties, however, it had 
competition in the more inexpensive gelatines of domestic man- 
ufacture. 101 


Water in the large cities . — In the first years of the century few 
cities had municipal water systems, either public or private. 

98 Eighth Census : Manufactures , pp. cxcvii-cxcviii. 

99 Commerce and Navigation Report , i 86 o ) pp. 172-291. 

100 Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), P- 228. 

101 Mrs . Putnam's Receipt Book (new and enl. ed.; Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Co., 
1858) recommended “Cox’s patent refined sparkling gelatine” as a cheaper substitute 
for Russia isinglass in some of the receipts. One of the more popular gelatines was 
that made by Peter Cooper. 



As population grew and cities expanded, people found it harder 
to go to streams for their water; wells and cisterns were en- 
dangered by the accumulation of the contents of privy vaults 
and rivers by industrial pollution. There was no sudden shift to 
public systems, but one by one cities installed pumps, con- 
structed reservoirs, and laid mains. By i860 considerable prog- 
ress had been made, although it was several decades later before 
the work was anything like completed. Fite finds that in the 
few years preceding the Civil War municipal water systems 
were established in New York, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Detroit, 
Hartford, Jersey City, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Boston. 
When the war began there were 68 public water systems, of 
which 59 were in the North and 9 in the Confederacy, and 80 
private systems. 102 Even such northern cities as Providence, 
Portland, and Milwaukee had no public provision for water 
whatsoever; but, as Cole points out, the number shows a con- 
siderable advance over the 83 systems in existence in 1850. 103 It 
must be remembered, however, that these were not systems of 
purification; they were merely systems for conveying lake or 
river water to where the water was to be used. 

Portland, Maine, had no public water supply; townspeople 
used filtered rainwater or obtained their water from springs and 
wells. 104 Portsmouth, New Hampshire, had constructed an 
“aqueduct” in 1797, and two of the original wooden pipes were 
still in use. Hartford had, by 1 862, nearly thirty-one miles of 
water main in use, supplying about 26,000 persons (857 families 
from yard hydrants, 3,389 from inside fixtures) at rates ranging 
from five to ten dollars a family a year. Providence had no sys- 
tem until 1871. Boston’s system, which brought Cochituate wa- 
ter into the city, had been completed in 1 848 ; and in 1 8 59, 1 7,000 
dwelling houses were supplied with water at rates beginning at 

102 Emerson David Fite, Social and Industrial Conditions in the North during the Civil 
War (New York: Macmillan, 1910), pp. 216-17. 

1<f 3 A. C. Cole, pp. 180-81. 

I0 * The following summary has as its sources the reports of city water departments, 
descriptions of the water-supply systems, local histories, and various other material. 
Specific citation seems unnecessary. 

4 o 


six dollars. New York City’s Croton aqueduct had been com- 
pleted in the forties, though the system was not regarded as 
finished until the completion of the Central Park reservoir in 
1862; in 1856 there were 53,745 customers, the most common 
rate being nine dollars a year. Brooklyn’s new system, bringing 
water from the Long Island hill slopes, was being constructed 
and was completed in 1862. Albany’s system, drawing water 
from near-by lakes and reservoirs, was being improved but was 
hardly satisfactory. Troy’s hydrant water, pumped from a 
brook, was thought pretty good. Jersey City’s water system, 
constructed in the early fifties, included an eight-mile aqueduct 
from the Passaic; rates began at six dollars a year. Camden had 
had a private waterworks system since 1845. 

Philadelphia’s system, though dating in part from the early 
years of the century, was supposed to be the best in the country. 
It drew upon the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers and charged 
customers only five dollars a year. Pittsburgh had installed new 
reservoirs and pumps in 1842. Cincinnati’s system had been 
considerably expanded in the latter fifties, with new reservoirs 
and new pumps; the Ohio River water seems to have left some- 
thing to be desired in the way of purity. Rates ranged from 
seven dollars a year for a one-room house to sixteen for a 
twenty-room house.’ Cleveland’s system, drawing on Lake Erie, 
had also been expanded by new equipment; the base rate was 
five dollars a year for five-room houses. Detroit’s new system, 
still using many wood mains, drew water from the Detroit 
River; in 1858 it supplied 6,474 families at rates ranging from 
five to ten dollars a year. Chicago’s system, still being ex- 
panded, had by i860 ninety-one miles of pipe, and by 1858 was 
supplying 5,640 families, the most common rate being ten dol- 
lars. Not until the lake tunnel was built in the sixties was the 
water supply satisfactory.' St. Louis’ system, drawing water 
from the Mississippi, had been built in the early thirties; in i860 
it was being strained to the limits of its capacity. 

The water supply of Washington, D.C., was completely in- 
adequate; and, although there was some talk of improvements, 
the people still drew much of their water from wells, polluted 



because there was no sewerage. Baltimore’s system to obtain 
water from the Gunpowder River was not completed until 1862; 
but, by 1861, 16,4x9 dwellings were being supplied, the common 
rate being eight dollars. Charleston was entirely dependent up- 
on cisterns and wells. Savannah, in the fifties, constructed a 
system to supply the city from the Savannah River. New 
Orleans had, by the end of the forties, expended more than a 
million dollars for facilities to pump water to all parts of the 
city — thirty-seven and three-quarters miles. Mobile’s city wa- 
terworks brought spring water to the city from a stream some 
miles distant. Memphis in i860 made an appropriation for a 
waterworks system, but the war prevented its construction. 
Louisville’s system was completed just before the beginning of 
the war, but as late as 1862 there were only 293 residences con- 
nected with the system. 

W ater in the smaller cities . — Throughout the North, and to a 
lesser extent throughout the country, the towns and smaller 
cities were providing themselves with systems by which water 
from near-by lakes or streams could be made available. Usually 
these systems were not elaborate 1 — an “aqueduct” and a few 
water mains, both fed by gravity; occasionally a larger system 
with pump and reservoir. Such towns as Rockland, Maine, and 
Bellows Falls, Vermont, had simple systems. Charlestown, 
Massachusetts, was served by the Boston system, and by 1,728 
wells, many of which were not fit for use. Worcester, Lowell, 
Concord (New Hampshire), Gloucester, Newburyport, and 
Woonsocket, among others, had no systems, and Danbury and 
New Haven were just constructing them. In New York State, 
Watertown and Newburg had systems of a sort, Poughkeepsie 
an 4 Rochester did not. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had a system 
to provide itself with water from the Conestoga. Sandusky, 
Ohio, used wells, while Zanesville drew upon the Muskingum. 
There was no public water supply in J ackson, Michigan; Daven- 
port, Iowa; or'in Belleville, Joliet, or Quincy, Illinois; none in 
Hannibal, Missouri, or in Beloit, Fond du Lac, Madison, Osh- 
kosh, or Racine, Wisconsin. 

Richmond, Virginia, pumped water from the James River, 



J. L. Jarrett give us a practical teach- 
ing book in the theory and practice of 
communication. 31 The early chapters 
seem particularly useful, dealing with 
the nature, function, and patterning of 
signs inside and outside language, and 
with other topics of similarly central 
importance, each chapter ending with 
problems set out for discussion, exer- 
cises, and a manageable reading list. 
The book might well be used with 
elementary students in English and 
Philosophy in this country. A book by 
B. F. Huppd and J. Kaminsky 32 has a 
similar field and scope to the preced- 
ing, though more limited to conven- 
tional aspects of logic and language 
and lacking the positive argument and 
clear presentation of the other. Never- 
theless, it is full of fascinating data 
and many of the exercises are of value: 
the question is, for whom? what body 
of students have the authors in mind? 
Some of the material (e.g. on the his- 
tory of English) would be child’s play 
for students reading English and vir- 
tually irrelevant for those who are not. 

Langage des machines et langage 
humain 33 gives a very clear account in 
brief space of the analogies between 
telegraphic codes, those used in com- 
puters, the phonic codes of speech, and 
their written correlatives. There can 
be few simpler introductions to tb« 
theory of information and the Boolean 
algebra requisite for understanding 
many of the developments in the new 
co-operation between mathematics 
and linguistics. In the Proceedings of 
the 1952 linguistic congress (see note 2 
above), we find several speakers com- 
plaining of (and some displaying) in- 
sufficient knowledge of ‘information 
theory’. Such complaints would be 
unlikely today by reason of books like 

31 Language and Informal Logic . Long- 
mans. pp. viii+274. 22s. 6d. 

32 Logic and Language. New York: 
Alfred A. Knopf, pp. iii-f 216. $2.50. 

33 By V. Belevitch. Brussels: Office de 
Publicity S.A. pp. 119. 

this of Belevitch and through the acti- 
vity in this country of scholars like 
E. C. Cherry. The latter has an impor- 
tant 35-page article in Methodos which 
is A History of the Theory of Infor- 
mation , a fascinating account of early 
codes and symbolism from Ogam to 
Morse, the development of telegraphy 
and telephony, and the rise of a new 
need — for ‘economy’, and the various 
methods of signal compression that 
have been developed in consequence. 
We are given a lucid introduction to 
modern statistical theory (especially 
with reference to Wiener and Shan- 
non), and there is a section on ‘Brains, 
Real and Artificial’ which should do 
much to dissipate popular myth-con- 
ceptions about modern robotry. In a 
fourth and final section, Cherry ex- 
pounds some of the mathematics of 
information. He was also responsible 
for editing the volume of Information 
Theory, 34 reports of a London Sym- 
posium in September 1955. The first 
section of some 50 pages (‘Fundamen- 
tals’) is devoted to the theory itself for 
those whose interests lie here and 
whose mathematics can cope with it. 
A third section (‘Language Analysis 
and Mechanical Translation’) and 
parts of a fourth (‘Meaning and the 
Human Senses’) have wider relevance. 
There are contributions from D. A. 
Bell and A. S. C. Ross; W. Fucks on 
word-formation; S. Ceccato and E. 
Maretti on the research of the Italian 
Operational School (covering roughly 
the same ground as the Methodos 
article which is reported below, but 
more fully). There is a brief piece by 
A. D. Booth (having oddly little to do 
with its title ‘Influence of Context on 
Translation’) in which — not the only 
time this year— he mentions his fear 
that the subject of machine transla- 
tion may ‘fall into disrepute’; it is 
hard to see why he should refer to 
demonstrations which do not require, 
34 Butterworth. pp. xii+401. 70s. 



Brazilian coffee. 106 In New England coffee was frequently adul- 
terated; in the western and Middle states substitutes (such as 
chicory or a mixture of burned and ground peas and rye) were 
used by the poorer elements of the population. 10 ? It was be- 
lieved that j pound a week, or 13 pounds a year, was a very low 
figure for the consumption of those who actually used coffee and 
that not more than half the population (including children) 
could have been coffee-drinkers. 108 Much of the coffee was 
roasted at home, and even when roasted coffee was purchased it 
was likely to be ground at home. The coffee mill was part of the 
standard kitchen equipment. 

The consumption of tea in i860, as at present, was far below 
that of coffee — an average per capita consumption of 0.76 
pounds a year for the decade 1851-60, as compared with 0.83 in 
the period 1911-25 and 0.74 in 1926-30. 109 Both tea and coffee 
were relatively inexpensive in the East; farther west, transpor- 
tation costs put them in the luxury class. 110 

Cider . — The consumption of cider is something one would like 
to know more about. From Colonial times cider had been al- 
most the national drink. Apples had been cultivated for their 
cider-producing qualities rather than for eating; and the popu- 
larity of cider extended to similar drinks made from other fruits, 
such as “perry,” or pear cider. Unfortunately, the Census re- 
ports, both state and federal, are so incomplete as to be almost 
useless. All over the country farmers used at least their bruised 
and windfall apples to make a few barrels for home consump- 

106 David A. Wells, et al. y Report of a Commission Appointed for a Revision of the 
Revenue System , 1865-1866 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1866), pp. 65- 
66 . 

r °7 In the old Northwest, wheat, barley, peas, beans, dandelion roots, and browned 
bread were among the substitutes (H. E. Cole, Stage Coach and Tavern Tales of the 
Old Northwest , ed. Louise Phelps Kellogg [Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1930], 
p. 215). In Utah burned beans or toasted corn were used (Richard Burton, The City 
of the Saints [London: Longman, Green, Longman, & Roberts, 1861], p. 388). There 
was also a certain amount of fraudulent adulteration. 

i°8 Wells and others, pp. 65-66. 

109 Statistical Abstract , LVII (1935), Table 639, p. 646. 

110 See the tables in Appen. C. 



each case of the features (gender, de- 
clension, soft or hard stem, &c.) of the 
corresponding Russian word. The 
other has the Russian words in their 
indicated order. There is an excellent 
explanation of the way in which the 
morphological and some syntactical 
changes are accomplished mechani- 
cally, but beyond being told that poly- 
semantic words are dealt with ‘as a 
result of the context analysis’, we learn 
nothing of how the context is ana- 
lysed (by the machine?) for this pur- 
pose; the booklet contains some 
examples of the texts translated (or 
theoretically translatable?) from Eng- 
lish to Russian by the BESM. It seems 
certain that the Russian achievement 
in this field is at least as sophisticated 
as that of the western countries which 
are engaged in the work. The Russian 
experiment is also briefly reported by 
D. Panov in MT , and the same journal 
reports a booklet in Russian by this 
linguist on automatic translation and 
the methods used with the BESM 

The progress made by the Scuola 
Operativa Italiana in this field is re- 
ported by S. Ceccato, 11 Contrihuto 
italiana al problema della traduzione 
meccanica ( Methodos ; see also the 
report connected with note 34 above). 
He discusses the lack of correspond- 
ing signs between languages, the prob- 
lem of multiple meaning, and finally 
the lack of adequate syntactic descrip- 
tion. He includes a brief example of 
the types of syntactic correlation set 
up by the SOI to tackle this latter need. 

MT iii. 1 is devoted to the work of 
the Cambridge Language Research 
Group and to a report of the Group’s 
meeting and exchange of papers in 
August 1955. After a rather general 
discussion of linguistic analysis and 
translation, led by J. R. Firth, there is 
a summary of Miss M. Masterman’s 
paper on new techniques in syntacti- 
cal analysis. Whatever else comes out 

of the Group’s work (and the same 
can be said of the SOI), it is clear that 
linguistics is going to profit from the 
experimentation in this direction; one 
feels there is particularly great possi- 
bility in the Boolean lattice ideas of 
presenting syntactic structure, and 
these are also well illustrated in the 
paper by A. F. Parker-Rhodes which 
is concerned with an outline of the 
computer programme devised for 
translating Chinese into English. This 
is linguistically of very great interest, 
though it is made obvious that reason- 
ably practicable machine translation 
is still well in the future. Indeed, 
R. H. Richens (. Preprogramming for 
Mechanical Translation) seems to 
conceive of a human translator work- 
ing with a machine as a sort of colla- 
borator, though this would surely be 
unlikely to have economic sanction. 
But Richens’s work is impressive and 
again chiefly on the syntactical side, 
though as Miss Masterman remarked 
in the ensuing discussion, a basic prob- 
lem remains in ‘the search for objec- 
tive criteria in setting up the lattice 
interrelations’. (For Crossland’s con- 
tribution, see p, 41 above.) Another 
member of the Cambridge Group, 
M. A. K. Halliday, writes separately on 
The Linguistic Basis of a Mechanical 
Thesaurus {MT). The argument is that 
the grammar and vocabulary of a lan- 
guage exhibit a high degree of deter- 
mination affecting all utterances, 
whether translated from another lan- 
guage or not. Machine translation can 
exploit this (to cope with the lack of 
translation equivalents between cate- 
gories of different languages) by 
ordering the elements into systems 
within which determination operates, 
and by working out, with descriptive 
linguistic methods, the criteria govern- 
ing the choice among those elements 
ranged as terms in one system. Lexical 
items so ordered form a ‘thesaurus’, 
and the thesaurus series is the lexical 





What we know and what we don't know . — In chapter ii we were 
on fairly safe ground. The production and port statistics I have 
used, though not always accurate or complete, are probably not 
subject to errors of great magnitude; and much of what I have 
been saying may be easily verified. This knowledge of what 
foods were available is some guide to the consumption of the 
country as a whole. It is when we try to discover what differ- 
ences in consumption there were between different income 
groups and different parts of the country that we get into diffi- 
culties. It is not that there was anything about the diet of the 
Americans which could not have been found out easily at the 
time. Rather, it is the reverse. What people were eating — and 
what they were wearing — were matters so commonplace that no 
one felt called upon to say anything about them : what is com- 
monplace at one time is likely to be the most difficult thing to 
find out about at a later time. I have had to make use of infor- 
mation which is at best incomplete, is almost always vague, and 
at times is actually biased. Much of what I shall have to say 
in the following pages is put forth uncertainly and tentatively, 
but I shall try to indicate the points where my doubts are 

Food consumption in the North , 1 — One peculiar characteristic 
of the American diet was the large amount of meat consumed. 
As I shall point out at the close of this chapter, meat consump- 
tion reached an all-time high in this country around i860, and 
the numerous comments of visitors from abroad indicate that 

1 In Appen. C, I have included such tables of price data as seemed most useful A 
few other items of price data, which cannot be easily given in tabular form, are scat- 
tered through the footnotes of this chapter. 




the use of meat here was much greater than it was abroad. 
Horace P. Batcheler’s remarks are hardly more extreme than 
others which might be cited: 

As a flesh-consuming people, the Americans have no equal in the world. 
They usually have meat three times a day, and not a small quantity at each 
meal either. I have seen gentlemen choose as many as seven or eight different 
kinds of animal food from the bill of fare, and after having all arranged before 
him in a row, in the national little white dishes, commence at one end and eat 
his way through in half a dozen minutes . 2 

As it happens, for extended comment on the quality of the meat 
we are largely dependent upon the books of these same travelers, 
most of them Englishmen, with peculiarly British notions as to 
what meat ought to be and how it ought to be prepared. 3 They 
were agreed that the beef and veal were both good and cheap 
but that the mutton was not fit to eat. Pork was the meat most 
commonly consumed; but, while it was cheap, it was not to the 
British taste, and the ham and bacon particularly left much to 
be desired. The poultry was usually good, though somewhat 
stringy. Oysters and other shellfish were plentiful and tasty; 
and, while the fish lacked variety and flavor, some kinds, partic- 
ularly sheepshead and shad, were very good indeed. 

Meat-consumption habits can hardly be understood without 
taking into account the lack of refrigeration facilities. Contem- 
porary writers, impressed by the greatly increased use of ice 
during the first half of the century, are likely to mislead later 
readers. In 1855 DeBow’s Review boasted: 

In America the use of ice is as widely extended among the people as the heat 
is, and with a very trifling individual cost. We use it for seven or eight months 

3 Jonathan at Home (London: W. H. Collingridge, 1864), p. 45; cf. also J. D. Burns, 
p. 8; and Nichols, I, 368. 

3 See Thomas Colley Gratton, Civilized America (London: Bradbury & Evans, 
1859), Ij 61-64, 106-7; Alfred Bunn, Old England and New England (Philadelphia: 
A. Hart, 1853), pp. 298-99; and George Augustus Sala, My Diary in America in the 
Midst of War (London: Tinsley Bros., 1865), I, 409-11. 

Gratton was the consul at Boston for some years and had ample opportunity to 
become acquainted with the food-consumption habits of the well-to-do. For his rather 
contemptuous opinion of American cookery see I, 106-8, 265-66. Sala, as a newspaper 
correspondent, had wider opportunities for observation, and his comments — on this as 
on other subjects — are interesting and refreshing, though not altogether free from preju- 



lish. The result is a useful piece of 
work which will be of great value to 
all future workers on historical Eng- 
lish syntax. H. Pilch, in ME i- beim 
Participium Prdteriti ( Ang ), deals in 
some detail with the distribution of 
the prefix in the Middle English dia- 
lects, with the type of word in which 
it is found, and with its eventual loss 
in the southern dialects. 

The late T. A. Knott had originally 
edited the letter A for the Middle 
English Dictionary , and this is now 
being re-edited on the plan adopted 
for the parts already published. 4 Par- 
ticularly noticeable in these two parts 
is the appearance of many technical 
medical terms, and the number of Old 
English words surviving only in 
Lajamon. They include an excellent 
analysis of the twelve different senses 
of abiden , and of the various uses of 
after in twenty columns. Inevitably 
occasional disagreement is possible: 
abak , 1(c), Wycl Apol. 75, rather 
‘restrain’ than ‘keep away, detain’; 
abiden , 12(d), O & N 1702, ‘wait for’ 
rather than ‘face (in battle)’; afoled , 
O & N 206, ‘fooled’ rather than ‘in- 
fatuated’; under amie 2 the Ancrene 
Riwle quotation makes no sense if 
taken from French a me, and the other 
two quotations seem to represent 
French amie\ no real evidence appears 
for a compound aboutegon ; the ety- 
mology and interpretation of alunde 
are doubtful; while the only example 
of alwight looks like a mistake for 

On individual words A. Rynell, A 
Note on ‘Lynde(s)’ in Robert Man- 
nyng's * Chronicle ’ ( Studier i Modern 
Sprakvetenskap ), disagrees with the 
gloss ‘open space(s)’ and shows that 
there is no reason to connect the word 
with anything but the name of the 

4 Middle English Dictionary: Parts A. 1 
and 2, by H. Kurath and S. M. Kuhn. 
Michigan U.P. and O.U.P. pp. i+124, 125- 
252. 2 Is. each part. 

tree. In ' Chalking ' Furs ( NM) T. F. 
Mustanoja notes the occurrence of the 
phrase in the accounts of Henry, earl 
of Derby (1391). It refers to the 
medieval practice of treating new 
furs with powdered chalk, a sense not 
previously found in English but men- 
tioned in twelfth- and thirteenth- 
century French verse. A. J. Bliss, The 
Auchinleck *St Margaret ’ and ' St 
Katherine ’ (NQ), notes the meaning 
‘dead’ for oliue , derives gou) ‘look’ 
from some such etymon as *gogian, 
and takes wijtine to be a compound 
whose elements are recorded in O.E.D. 
s.v. wee, tine. In a later note K. Sisam 
points out that this sense of oliue is in 
fact in O.E.D . A. H. Orrick suggests 
that in its context < Declynede\ Passus 
IV, L. 133, *Piers the Plowman \ A- 
Text (PQ) is to be taken as an adjec- 
tive, and the translation would be: 
‘Clerks that were confessors grouped 
themselves together in order to inter- 
pret this quickly recited clause (i.e. the 
macaronic verse of lines 126-7).’ 

J. J. Lamberts, The Development 
of ‘Made ( JEGP ), suggests that the 
shortened forms may have originated 
with take. An early [tak kep] or per- 
haps [takrep] became [takep], which 
might then result in a form ta , the 
changes being analogically transferred 
to make. In The Loss of Long Con- 
sonants and the Rise of Voiced Frica- 
tives in Middle English (L) H. Kurath 
shows that in all parts of the North 
and North-east Midlands phonically 
long consonants had lost their phonic 
status by 1 200 because of the length- 
ening of short vowels in open syllables 
of disyllabic words. But in the South- 
east Midlands, and in all dialects in 
which lengthening of i and u did not 
take place in this position, the phoni- 
cally long consonants retained their 
phonemic status until about 1400, 
when their elimination is indicated 
by the loss of final unstressed - e . It 
was the loss of phonemic length in 

4 8 


was used in the home was almost certainly used to ice drinks 
(the popularity of ice water was another strange American “in- 
stitution,” which no doubt led foreigners to exaggerate Amer- 
icans’ use of ice) and to make ice cream and similar occasional 
delicacies. Even in the North there were few home refriger- 
ators. 11 

Lacking refrigeration, consumers could not purchase their 
fresh meat a very long time before it was to be cooked. This 
cannot have been a very serious problem. The real question is 
whether local slaughterhouses killed animals frequently enough, 
throughout the whole year, to make fresh meat always obtain- 
able at the meat markets. 12 There is no very satisfactory in- 
formation as to how much beef and veal were consumed in the 
North. Substantial exports of beef, as well as of pork, were be- 
ing made year after year. In the Northeast, where distances 
were short, the cities were drawing upon the surrounding coun- 
tryside. Beef and veal were certainly to be had in all large cities, 
and probably in all communities, by those who desired it and 
were able to pay for it; but there had been little attempt to im- 
prove stock, the grazing was restricted and the season short, so 
that the meat was likely to be tough and stringy. Although 
there was a noticeable shift from wool breeds to mutton breeds 
of sheep, mutton was rather poor in quality and entered con- 
sumption only to a minor degree; in the West it was seldom to 
be found. The staple meat product for the North, as for the 
country as a whole, was pork in its various forms, but espe- 
cially salt pork. Hogs were easily fed and even in the cities 
and towns of the North served as scavengers. Hogs were also 
better adapted to the practice of home slaughtering and curing 
than were the heavy beef animals. Modern physicians prob- 

11 The thirteen establishments making refrigerators and water-coolers reporting to 
the Eighth Census {Manufacture s, p. 740) had an output valued at only $1 62,550; 
and New York State, whose factories had produced 5,3 00 refrigerators (besides 300 
meat safes) in 1855, in 1865 produced only 700 {Census of the State of New York for 
1855, P* 442 ; Census . . . .for 1865, p. 497). In Chicago only those used iceboxes who 
could afford to purchase ice, taken from Calumet River and Calumet Lake in the winter 
and occasionally from northern points (Pierce, II, 472). 

13 Figures on local slaughterhouses, if obtainable, would throw light on this ques- 



ably would disagree with Nichols’ diagnosis, but I think many 
of his contemporaries were of his opinion: “Pork and lard, con- 
sumed in enormous quantities, and even by the poorest people, 
to an extent quite unknown in any country in Europe, cause 
much disease.” 13 

Farmers all kept domestic poultry; and chickens, ducks, and 
geese were on sale in the city markets. Figures for the consump- 
tion of poultry around i860 are hard to find: a million dollars’ 
worth of poultry was sold in Boston in 1 848, and another mil- 
lion dollars’ worth of eggs. 14 Venison cannot have entered much 
into the diet of the poorer classes except in the less settled parts 
of the country, but it did take a place much larger than it does 
today among the foods consumed by the well-to-do. Sportsmen 
could also eat prairie fowl, grouse, quail, woodcock, snipe, and 
plover, and in the Northwest these were normal articles of con- 
sumption. 15 

Of the preserved meats, corned beef appears to have been 
fairly common; prices were quoted for it in several collections 
of 1 860 price data. For those to whom even corned beef was too 
expensive, there was mess beef. But in preserved, as in fresh, 
meats, pork was the mainstay of the population — hams and 
bacon for the middle and upper classes, sausages, especially on 
the farms, and pickled pork, “sow belly,” and “fat back” for the 
poorest classes. 16 Canned meat made up only an infinitesimal 
part of the popular consumption: Collins estimates that up to 
the beginning of the Civil War not more than five million cans 

13 Nichols, I, 368. 

14 DeBow’s Review } XV (1853), 507-8. 

13 Cf. the tables in Appen. C. “[In Chicago] beef, pork, mutton, and game meats 
such as venison, buffalo, prairie chicken, grouse, and quail graced the menus of hotels 
and homes, while the use of tripe, because it was inexpensive, increased. Sea foods 
were common, Chicago epicures in the early ’fifties ‘luxuriating’ in fresh fish three 
days from the sea, and whitefish and trout could be had from the Upper Lakes” (Pierce, 

II, 461). 

16 As Cummings points out (p. 16), not only does pork keep well, but its flavor is 
actually improved by the preservative processes. Cummings thinks one reason for the 
small consumption of mutton was the fact that it was difficult either to keep fresh or 
to preserve. 



of everything' — meat, fish, fruits, vegetables — had been pro- 
duced . 17 

There is every reason to suppose that the population of the 
North was well supplied with fish. The annual catch was large, 
the prices low, and those not living on coast or river could have 
fish shipped in or at least eat preserved fish. A cookbook pub- 
lished in Boston, popular enough to run through several edi- 
tions, gave directions for the preparation and cooking of cod, 
shad, bluefish, halibut, mackerel, salmon, scrod, eels, perch, 
smelt, haddock, tautog, and turbot; for various chowders; and 
for shellfish . 18 Freedley lists among the fish to be caught near 
Philadelphia a great variety of river fish (sunfish, herring, shad, 
roach, cat, perch, rock, lamprey, common eel, pike, sucker, 
sturgeon, gar) and sea fish (cod, sea bass, blackfish, sheeps- 
head, Spanish mackerel, haddock, pollock, mullet, halibut, 
flounder, sole, plaice, skait, progey), as well as the ever present 
shellfish . 19 In a western state like Illinois there were perch, 
white, black, and rock bass, pike-perch, catfish, muskellunge, 
whitefish, lake trout, and sturgeon . 20 The fact that fishing was 
about the only sport open to many boys and men must have 
been reflected in the diet. Shellfish, and especially oysters, oc- 
cupied a place in contemporary descriptions of American life 
which must be out of all proportion to their actual consumption 
by the common people . 21 Still, all the eastern cities had numer- 
ous “oyster saloons,” where one could eat as many as he wished 
for a quarter or so ; 22 and western cities — Cincinnati, Chicago, 

P. 1 5. 

18 Mrs. Putnam" s Receipt Book. 

19 Edwin T. Freedley, Philadelphia and Its Manufactures (Philadelphia: Edward 
Young & Co., 1867), p. 107. 

20 T. C. Clark, “The Prairie State,” Atlantic Monthly , VII (1861), 579-95. 

21 See especially Batcheler, pp. 53-54, and Nichols, I, 267-71. There are also interest- 
ing comments in [Isabella Lucy Bird Bishop], The Englishmmman in America (London: 
John Murray, 1856), pp. 352-53; William Hancock, An Emigrant's Five Years (London: 
T. Gautley Newby, i860), p. 75; Charles Mackay, Life and Liberty in America (New 
York: Harper & Bros., 1859), PP- 3 2 ~ 33 i and similar accounts. 

22 Oysters for home consumption sold for 25 cents a quart in Boston (advertisement 
in Boston Evening Transcript , February 1, i860). 



St. Louis, and others— were daily supplied with barrels of fresh 
oysters by express from the East or the Gulf. 

Dried cod and pickled mackerel continued to be staple arti- 
cles of food consumption. They were cheap, they would keep 
indefinitely, and they could supplement the diet when fresh 
meat was hard to get. With the possible exception of canned 
oysters and lobsters — and the price of them must have put them 
in the luxury class 23 — canned fish were seldom eaten. 

What specialized dairy herds there were in the country were in 
the North; but difficulties of transporting milk and of keeping it 
sweet probably kept consumption at a low level. Table 23 in 
Appendix C 'offers some clue to milk consumption, although I 
have no way of knowing how accurate the table is and the lack 
of any data on states in the Deep South rules out some of the 
comparisons one would like to make. For the thirteen states for 
which there is any information the per capita consumption of 
fluid milk was just under 1 pint a day, ranging from 1 10 quarts 
a year in Massachusetts up to 258 quarts a year in Vermont. 
In 1853 Hunt’s had estimated the milk consumption of New 
York City at about 204 quarts per capita a year, or from 1 to 
if pints per capita a day; 24 this was almost four times as high as 
its estimate had been ten years earlier. 25 The small amount al- 
located to milk in one family budget 26 may indicate a much 
lower milk consumption among the laboring classes; and cer- 
tainly consumption was lower in the cities than on the farms. 
The low quality and adulteration of the milk supply of the 
cities has already been mentioned. 

The consumption of butter, as we have seen, compares favor- 
ably with that of the present; what the quality was is another 

2 3 A small can cost about 50 cents (Collins, p. 13.) 

3 4 In “The Milk Trade of New York,” XXVIII (1853), 682-89, based on John 
Mullaly, The Milk Trade in New York and Vicinity (New York: Fowler & Wells). 
Mullaly’s estimate for the total annual consumption was 120,600,000 quarts ($5,437,- 
000), which Hunt's thought too low, guessing that the annual value would not be less 
than $5,500,000. Annual per capita expenditure for milk would be $9.16. Milk was 
retailed in Chicago, in the fifties, at 6 cents a quart (Pierce, II, 461); for its price else- 
where see Appen. C. 

Cummings, p. 54, citing Hunt's , XIII (1845), 389. 

26 See below, p. 394. 

5 ^ 


question, and one not easily answered. Bunn thought the butter 
was ''filthy,” except in Pennsylvania; and Gratton thought that 
the butter, like everything else, was salted too much. 27 Ice cream 
seems to have been highly popular, at least in comparison with 
its consumption abroad. Nichols attributed this to the climate 
(again, I suspect he is not to be taken too literally) : 

There are two elements of New York and American life which English 
tourists can never appreciate, nor English readers comprehend. They are ice- 
cream, and oysters. It is impossible, in a cool climate like that of England, to 
imagine the luxury of ice, iced drinks, and frozen foods and sweetmeats, in a 
hot one. For four months in a year Americans eat ices and drink iced drinks. 
Ice is everywhere. The first thing in a summer morning in Virginia is an im- 
mense mint julep sparkling with ice 

But the ice-creams are the most ubiquitous luxury. They are served in 
public gardens, in saloons that hold a thousand people, at the confectioners, at 
the uniform price of sixpence, and generally of an excellent quality and 
flavour . 28 

In 1850 the editor of Godeys Lady's Book had remarked that ice 
cream had become one of the necessities of life — a party with- 
out it would be like a breakfast without bread or a dinner with- 
out a roast. 29 Mrs. Bishop noted that on the lake steamboat on 
which she was traveling large glass "tubs” of vanilla ice cream 
were brought in for dinner; 30 and a large share of the surviving 
hotel and dining-room menus have ice cream and ices listed 
among the desserts. In New York a favorite amusement was to 
go to Taylor’s for ice cream. How far it entered into the home 
consumption of the common people is another matter. Mrs. 
Putnam’s cookbook devoted three pages to ice-cream receipts 
and the use of farm-stored ice made it relatively inexpensive; 
but I suspect that for most people ice cream was still regarded as 
a special treat. 

The consumption of cheese was somewhat lower than it later 
became, and I think probably much lower than it was abroad 
at the time. I have no very satisfactory explanation for this: 

27 Bunn, pp. 298-99; Gratton, I, 106-7. 

38 Nichols, I, 267-68. The emphasis on the use of ice in America, as contrasted with 
its use in the Old World, is again to be noted. 

39 XLI (1850), 124, cited by Cummings, p. 40. 30 Isabella Bishop, p. 176. 



if we attribute it to differences in taste we still have to explain 
how those differences arose. The large consumption of meat and 
the small consumption of cheese are probably not unrelated, and 
it may be that, when meat and other foods were so cheap, there 
was little desire for cheese. 

The relative amounts of the various kinds of bread — white 
and whole-wheat bread, rye bread, and corn bread — entering 
into consumption in the North is something I should like to 
know more about. From the fact that in the country as a whole 
the per capita consumption of wheat was even greater than it is 
now and from the fact that the proportion of corn breads to 
wheat bread was much larger in the South than in the North, 
one gathers that — though farm families, at least, must have had 
corn bread fairly frequently — most of the bread consumed in 
the North must have been wheat bread. This predominance of 
wheat bread in the diet is confirmed by the surprise of visiting 
northerners at the common use of corn bread in the South. De- 
scriptions of the milling processes then in use would lead one to 
believe that the flour was bolted, and therefore white . 31 Much 
of the flour, however, and perhaps even most of it was still being 
ground by old-fashioned mills; this was especially true of the 
flour ground for farm consumption and was even more true of 
corn than of wheat. This was a time, too, when Sylvester Gra- 
ham, who gave his name to Graham flour, had a large following, 
and this may also have contributed toward a large use of whole- 
grain flours . 32 Compared with wheat, little rye was grown, and 
its production was largely limited to the Middle states. It does 
not follow, of course, that it was consumed where it was grown, 
but one is inclined to believe that the German and Dutch ele- 
ment in the populations of New York and Pennsylvania used 
more rye bread than did the rest of the people. 

a* Thoreau was one who complained about the increasing dependence of the farmer 
upon purchased foodstuffs. He wrote, in Walden (p. 70): “Yet so far are we from sim- 
plicity and independence that in Concord, fresh and sweet meal is rarely sold in the 
shops, and hominy and corn in a still coarser form are hardly used by any. For the most 
part the farmer gives to his cattle and hogs the grain of his own producing, and buys 
flour, which is at least no more wholesome, at a greater cost, at the store.” 

33 See Richard H. Shryock, “Sylvester Graham and the Health Reform Movement, 
1830-1870,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review , XVIII (1931), 172-83. 



Cereals could be consumed in as many ways as the house- 
wife knew how to prepare them. Bread, 33 of course, was the 
chief use; griddlecakes (including buckwheat cakes) seem to 
have been a favorite breakfast dish; hot breads, especially in the 
South, were used much more than today. Mrs. Putnam’s cook- 
book gives receipts for all sorts of breads (bread, biscuit, griddle- 
cakes and buckwheat cakes, graham bread, corn bread, corn- 
cakes, crumpets, flannelcakes, muffins, rice cakes, rye cakes, and 
drop cakes, waffles, etc.), pastry (pies, tarts, cheesecakes, puffs, 
and other delicacies), puddings (some sixty-five different kinds, 
besides custards, meringues, whips, blancmange, and charlotte 
russe), and cakes (including also gingerbread, macaroons, and 
doughnuts). 34 

Besides, there were crackers, the product of the commercial 
bakeries. Philadelphia, for instance, had in 1858 nine cracker 
bakeries, with an annual output of about 1 20,000 eighty-pound 
barrels of crackers; 35 and in New York State, in 1865, the re- 
porting bakeries produced 2,304,962 pounds and 10,085 barrels 
of crackers, besides some included in other items. 36 The cracker 
barrel seems already to have become a grocery-store fixture. 

The well-to-do had a large choice of garden vegetables in the 
city markets; and gentlemen-farmers and those with country 
estates could produce still others for themselves. Because vege- 
table gardens required little time to become productive, the 
Northwest was nearly as well supplied with vegetables as the 
East. Nevertheless, I have the impression that many who 
might have had (in season) plenty of fresh vegetables from their 
own garden were not sufficiently interested to take the trouble. 

33 Jules Remy and Julius Brenchley (A Journey to Great-Salt-Lake City [London: 
W. Jeffs, 1861], I, 78 n.) speak of the use of saleratus (baking soda) instead of yeast in 
baking bread, all over the United States. I have seen nothing to substantiate this, and 
I suspect they were misinformed. 

34 “I afterward ate of hominy . . . . , squash, and mush. I tried slap-jack, flap-jack, 
rye-cake, ris-cake (m, the participle of the verb active 'to rise’), cup-cake, johnny- 
cake, and doughnuts” (Gratton, I, 62, the phrase in parentheses being a footnote in the 

35 Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), p. 267. 

36 Census of the State of New York for 1865 , p. 484. 



The working classes were everywhere almost wholly dependent 
on a few common staples. Of these, Irish potatoes were the 
most used, and there was some consumption of sweet potatoes, 
though nothing like that of the South. Rice was little used in 
the North. Corn was prepared for the table in various ways, 
hominy being particularly common on the farms. Green corn, 
peas, beans, onions, and cabbage were much used. Tomatoes, 
now no longer regarded as poisonous, were coming into popular 
consumption, and other vegetables to be seen on the table from 
time to time included eggplants and oyster plants (salsify). 
There was almost no use of green, leafy vegetables and very 
little even of root crops, in spite of their keeping qualities. (Re- 
ports indicate a small acreage of root crops, and most of those 
grown were fed to stock.) 

Judged by present standards the fruit consumption of the 
country before the Civil War was even less imposing than that 
of vegetables: 

Up to 1 8 67, the foreign fruit growers and shippers saw no cloud on the 
horizon of the American market. The lemon of Sicily and the sweet Messina 
orange competed only with the apple for Yankee favor. Grapes, raisins, cur- 
rants, prunes, every European fruit — green, dried, or preserved — found in 
the United States a market that was never glutted except by itself. Bananas 
and pineapples from the West Indies, Cuba, and Central America, cocoanuts 
and tropical fruits of every description, came, but in limited quantities, and 
an auction house that could do a business of a million a year would have been 

considered an impossibility Prior to the Civil War and for several years 

afterward the small fruits of New York, New Jersey, Long Island, and Dela- 
ware were the only competitors of the foreign fruit. Occasionally a sloop load- 
ed with water melons would roll up from one of the Southern ports, or a few 
crates of the same fruit come by rail, but there was not systematized trade as 
there is to-day. Peaches were to be had in season, but if the much-bewailed 
Delaware crop really did fail, the market and prices both appreciated it, and 
California was not just behind waiting to come to the rescue as she is to-day.37 

It was not until much later that railway facilities permitted 
rapid enough transportation from California to the East to 

37 John W. Nix, “The Fruit Trade,” One Hundred Years of American Commerce y 
II, 603. “Pineapples, bananas, and oranges, are the cheapest fruits in the market” 
(Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June ai, 1856 [II, aaj). “For sale.— Bananas.— 
Several bunches of Fine Bananas. Apply this morning to Samuel McCarter, at the bar 
of the steamer Jessie K. Bell” (advertisement in Cincinnati Daily Commercial , May 16, 


make that state an important source of supply. In the larger 
cities only the well-to-do could afford much fruit, and their con- 
sumption would seem small compared with that of the office 
worker and skilled laborer of today. Apples were the most com- 
monly available of the fruits; most farmers had at least a small 
orchard, and more attention was being paid to the eating qual- 
ities of the apples grown. Peaches seemed cheap and plentiful 
to European visitors, but not until developments in canning 
and in transportation made regional specialization profitable 
did production become really great. Plums were fairly common 
in season, pears in the densely populated states, and among the 
smaller fruits, grapes and cranberries. The orchards of the Old 
Northwest were beginning to bear, and the fruit-growing of 
southern Michigan was already assuming commercial signifi- 
cance. But for the most part the newer parts of the country 
were dependent on wild fruit and berries and a few easily grown 
berries and small fruits. 

Commercially canned fruits and vegetables had not yet be- 
come a part of popular consumption outside the big cities; to 
what extent they were used there is not so certain. They had 
ceased to be rarities; but it is altogether probable that they 
were for the most part still regarded as a novelty or a “treat.” 
The amount of home “canning” and preserving is more uncer- 
tain still. Processes were complicated and results unpredictable, 
arid it is unlikely that much of what we think of as canning was 
done. 38 Few vegetables other than tomatoes were canned. The 
root vegetables and potatoes and cabbages were easily kept in 
the root cellar or by “burying” them. There was no problem in 
keeping corn, and batches of hominy could be made from it as 
desired. A good deal of cabbage was converted into sauerkraut, 
some tomatoes were cooked, and other vegetables, including 
pumpkin and even, I think, tomatoes, sometimes dried. What 
was the most common method of preserving fruit I am far from 

38 The editor of the Country Gentlemen> recommending the use of self-sealing cans 
for asparagus, sweet corn, peas, and other vegetables, observed in 1855 that the use of 
preserves was declining, that of fresh fruit hermetically sealed taking their place (Cum- 
mings, p. 85). 



sure. On the Frontier, and probably on farms in all parts of 
the country, there was a good deal of drying of such fruits as 
apples, pears, grapes, and perhaps others (though apples were 
more commonly kept in barrels in the cellar). But a good deal of 
fruit, too, was put up in heavy sugar . 39 Thrifty housewives, 
especially on the farms, undoubtedly did much of this sort of 
preserving to salvage fruit which would otherwise go to waste 
and to provide some variety throughout the seasons when fresh 
fruit could not be obtained. Much of the canned and dried 
fruits, as well as fresh apples, probably went into fruit pies, a 
much more common dessert here than abroad . 40 Apple butter 
and other fruit butters seem also to have been much liked. 

Food consumption in the South . — Nowhere was there 'greater 
contrast between the diet of the rich and that of the poor than 
in the South. The slaves and the poor whites had scarcely a 
sufficiency of the plainest possible food; the wealthy planters 
lived in comparative abundance. Generalization about the 
planters’ diet is not easy. Many of the planters, some of them 
occupying social positions of the highest respectability, lived on 
very plain fare; and such an aura of romance now surrounds the 
antebellum plantation that one is not always sure what is fact 
and what is fancy . 41 To the slaves, the planters sometimes 
seemed to live in a luxury which strained the vocabulary: 

The close-fisted stinginess that fed the poor slave on coarse corn-meal and 
tainted meat .... wholly vanishes on approaching the sacred precincts of the 
great house, the home of the Lloyds. There the scriptural phrase finds an 
exact illustration; the highly favored inmates of this mansion are literally ar- 
rayed “in purple and fine linen,” and fare sumptuously every day! The table 
groans under the heavy and blood-bought luxuries gathered with pains-taking 
care, at home and abroad. Fields, forests, rivers and seas, are made tributary 

A limiting factor in home canning was sugar, which the housewife had to clarify 
before using, unless she used sugar which was worth more than the fruit. 

4° J. D. Burns (p. 8) and Tallack (p. 35), among others, commented on the frequency 
with which fruit pies appeared on the table in the United States. Pumpkin and squash 
pies were also common dessert dishes. Pie was particularly common in New England. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson, it is said, always had pie for breakfast (James Ford Rhodes, 
History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 [New York: Macmillan Co., 
1906], III, 70, citing Oliver Wendell Holmes, Emerson , pp. 269, 362). 

4 1 For a well-considered evaluation of the plantation tradition see Francis Pendleton 
Gaines, The Southern Plantation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1925). 


here. Immense wealth, and its lavish expenditure, fill the great house with all 
that can please the eye, or tempt the taste. Here, appetite, not food, is the 
great desideratum. Fish, flesh, and fowl, are here in profusion. Chickens, of 
all breeds, ducks, of all kinds, wild and tame, the common, and the huge 
Muscovite; Guinea fowls, turkeys, geese, and pea fowls, are in their several 
pens, fat and fattening for the destined vortex. The graceful swan, the mon- 
grels, the black-necked wild goose; partridges, quails, pheasants and pigeons; 
choice water fowl, with all their strange varieties, are caught in this huge 
family net. Beef, veal, mutton and venison, of the most select kinds and 
quality, roll bounteously to this grand consumer. The teeming riches of the 
Chesapeake bay, its rock, perch, drums, crocus, trout, oyster, crab, and terra- 
pin, are drawn hither to adorn the glittering table of the great house. The 
dairy, too, probably the finest on the Eastern Shore of Maryland — supplied 
by cattle of the best English stock, imported for the purpose, pours its rich 
donations of fragrant cheese, golden butter, and delicious cream, to heighten 
the attractions of the gorgeous, unending round of feasting. Nor are the fruits 
, of the earth forgotten or neglected. The fertile garden, many acres in size, 
constituting a separate establishment, distinct from the common farm — with 
its scientific gardener, imported from Scotland, .... was not behind, either in 
the abundance or in the delicacy of its contributions to the same full board. 
The tender asparagus, the succulent celery, and the delicate cauliflower; egg 
plants, beets, lettuce, parsnips, peas, and French beans, early and late; 
radishes, cantelopesj melons of all kinds; the fruits and flowers of all climes 
and of all descriptions, from the hardy apple of the north, to the lemon and 
orange of the south, cultivated at this point. Baltimore gathered figs, raisins, 
almonds and juice grapes from Spain. Wine and brandies from France, teas 
of various flavor, from China; the rich, aromatic coffee from Java, all con- 
spired to swell the tide of high life, where price and indolence rolled and 
lounged in magnificence and satiety. 43 

That not all planters, and not even all eastern planters, lived 
luxuriously is shown by Olmsted’s frequent comments on south- 
ern meals — and Olmsted was willing to praise southern fare 
when it could be praised. On a plantation eleven miles from 
Raleigh his lunch consisted of salt pork and pickled beets, vari- 
ous other kjnds of “swine’s flesh,” and two or three kinds of 

42 Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and Freedom (New York: Miller, Orton & 
Mulligan, 1855), pp. 107-9. Phillips’ account (. American Negro Slavery , pp. 311-12) is 
hardly less fulsome; cf. also the accounts in A. De Puy Van Buren, Jottings of a Year's 
Sojurn in the South (Battle Creek, Mich.: Battle Creek Review and Her aid t 1859), P- 46; 
Smedes, pp. 45-47; Edmund Kirke [James Roberts Gilmore], Among the Fines (New 
York: G. P. Putnam, 1862), p. 113; D. W. Mitchell, Ten Years in the United States 
(London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1862), p. 23; Catherine Cooper Hopley, Life in the South 
(London: Chapman & Hall, 1863), I, 83; Minnie Clare Boyd, Alabama in the Fifties 
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1931), pp. 1 12-13; Olmsted, Seaboard Slave 
States , pp. 80, 92, 327. 



corn. In northern Alabama the planters had bacon, corn breads 
and coffee at every meal. In Louisiana and Texas the usual fare 
of the planters, few of them very prosperous, consisted almost 
universally of salt pork, corn bread, and boiled sweet potatoes, 
and occasionally fresh pork. When, in a German community in 
Texas, Olmsted was served meat which was neither pork nor 
fried, he considered it worthy of special comment. 43 C. G. Par- 
sons, when he called upon the governor of Georgia in 1852, 
found him dining on corn bread and bacon, dry ship bread, 
corned beef, and the upper part of a pig’s head. 44 

There was little variety in the fare of the common people: 

Salt bacon and “greens,” with corn bread and thin coffee, composed the 
common fare, though milk and butter relieved the monotonous fare for the 
farmers. “Hog-killing time” was always a happy season, for fresh meats were 
then abundant. Only in the larger towns did the people have fresh meats 
throughout the year. An explanation of the enthusiasm of ante-bellum people 
for political speaking is found in the fact that barbecues either preceded or 
followed the oratory; and to a man who had lived for months on fat bacon 
and corn bread a fresh roast pig was a delight which would enable him to en- 
dure long hours of poor speaking. 45 

John G. Van Deusen finds that corn bread and bacon, a moder- 
ate amount of garden vegetables, and occasional fresh meat con- 
stituted the diet of the great body of southern people. 46 Miss 
Boyd describes the diet of the less well-to-do of Alabama as be- 
ing bacon and greens, corn bread, poor butter, blue and watery 
milk, snap beans, occasionally a few other garden vegetables, 
poor beef, and sometimes a bony chicken. 47 Parsons’ impression 
of the Georgians was that they lived almost entirely on corn 
bread and bacon. 48 A visitor to a poor-white home in Georgia 

« Seaboard Slave States , p. 322; A Journey in the Back Country (London: Sampson 
Low, Son & Co., i860), p. 61; Texas Journey , pp. 60-61, 144, and passim. 

44 Inside View of Slavery (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1855), p. 115. 

4s William E. Dodd, Expansion and Conflict (2d ed.; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 
1919), pp. 208-9. ^ is perhaps well to point out that “bacon” is likely to mean any 
kind of salted pork and that “greens” had a rather wider meaning in 1 860, and especially 
in the South, than it has today. 

4 6 Economic Bases of Disunion in South Carolina (New York: Columbia University 
Press, 1928), p. 269. 

47 P. 1 15. 43 P. 1 13. 



was served coffee without sugar, fried bacon, and corn bread 
mixed with water only; there were no vegetables, butter, or oth- 
er foods. 49 

At the lowest level were the slaves, with their weekly allow- 
ance of salt pork and corn meal and sometimes a few vegetables. 

Beef and veal, mutton and lamb, were not often to be found 
on southern tables, possibly because the pastures were poor and 
the climate too warm. The wealthier planters probably had 
them occasionally, other planters less often, and the common 
people only rarely. s ° Poultry, which required little extra ex- 
pense on the plantation or farm and which could be cooked in 
enough different ways to give a semblance of variety, was a 
standard part of the southern diet. All the large plantations 
had chickens and ducks, many of them geese and turkeys; prob- 
ably most of the smaller farms, too, had at least chickens, al- 
though there is hardly enough information to make generaliza- 
tion safe. 51 Throughout the South wild game was plentiful, and 
planters could dine on venison, quail, and occasionally possum, 
wild turkey, or bear. 52 

There were fish in great plenty along southern coasts and in 
the rivers, and most of the southern newspapers advertised fish 

49 Burke, p. 209. 

50 Phillips, pp. 31 1— 12; Mitchell, pp. 23, 37; Parsons, pp. 1 13-15; Van Buren, p. 46; 
Gilmore, pp. 15, 113, and passim; and Olmsted’s volumes; William E. Dodd, The Cotton 
Kingdom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921), pp. 93-94, and Expansion and 
Conflict ,pp. 208-9; Van Deusen, p. 269; Boyd, pp. 1 12-15; Hopley, I, 83; Smedes, p. 47. 

Olmsted gives the following prices: at Caldwell, Texas: beef, 2 cents alb.; pork, 5 cents; 
corn-fed pork, 6 cents ( Texas Journey , p. 107); Austin: fresh beef, 35 cents; pork, 6 
cents; bacon, 18 cents; hams, 20-25 cents (p. 1 1 5) ; New Braunfels: fresh beef, 3 cents; 
pork, 7 cents; bacon, 15 cents; sugar-cured hams, 20 cents; fowls, 20 cents each; turkeys, 
50 cents; wild turkeys, 25 cents; ducks, 20 cents; whole deer, >1.00; quarter-deer, 20 
cents; mutton, 7 cents (p. 179). 

51 Smedes, p. 47; Dodd, Cotton Kingdom , pp. 93-94; Gilmore, p. 113; Olmsted, 
Seaboard Slave States , pp. 80 and 92, and Journey through Back Country , p. 161. Eggs 
sold at 6-8 cents a dozen wholesale in Maysville, Kentucky, during 1858 (price quota- 
tions in various issues of the Tri-Weekly Maysville Eagle) and were 25 cents in Austin 
when Olmsted was there ( Texas Journey , p. 115). 

sa See William Elliott, Carolina Sports by Land and Water (New York: Derby & 
Jackson, 1859), and similar books on hunting and fishing; see also such accounts of 
southern life as James Battle Avirett, The Old Plantation (New York: F. Tennyson 
Neely Co., [1901]), pp. 23, 76; Gilmore, p. 113; Smedes, p. 47; Van Buren, p. 46; Olm- 
sted, Texas Journey , p. 179. 


— herring, whitefish, cod, salmon, halibut, mackerel, and others 
— and canned seafood. But the impression left by the many ac- 
counts of southern life is that fish was not an important part of 
southern diet — presumably most of the whites were either too 
busy or too indifferent to do much fishing. Off the eastern coast 
there were terrapin; and in the Gulf there were oysters in abun- 
dance. Other southern cities were supplied from Baltimore or 
from New Orleans or Mobile. 

Pork was the meat most commonly to be found in the North 
and in the West, but in the South it seemed almost to be the only 
meat. From planter to slave, pork and corn, in their various 
forms, were the staples of diet . 53 Pork could be served fresh, 
smoked, pickled, or salted; it could be made into sausage; barbe- 
cued it was an event . 54 And the importance of lard, when frying 
was the common way of cooking (as I think it was) and there 
were no vegetable shortenings, cannot be exaggerated. Hogs re- 
quired little care; they could be fed from what would otherwise 
be thrown away or even left to forage for themselves. Emily P. 
Burke commented that bacon, not bread, seemed to be the 
staff of life; boiled or fried, it was on the table three times 
daily . 53 From a few up to a couple of hundred hogs might be 
killed at hog-killing time. The bacon and hams would be cured, 
shoulders and sides likewise preserved, and the lard saved. On 
the plantations the spareribs, backbone, jowl and feet, souse, 
liver, and chitterlings were immediately consumed by planta- 
tion hands, and crackling-bread made from the leftovers after 
trying the lard . 55 

Most of the planters were able to supply their own need for 
butter, milk, and eggs , 57 although there was much variation 

53 This is emphasized in such contemporary accounts as those of Smedes, Van 
Buren, Olmsted, Hopley, Mitchell, Gilmore, Parsons, and Burke; and by such recent 
historians as Dodd, Phillips, Boyd, and Van Deusen. 

54 See p. 350 below. ss P. 223. 

s 6 Phillips, pp. 312-13; Wendell H. Stephenson, “A Quarter-Century of a Mississippi 
Plantation: Eli J. Capell of ‘Pleasant Hill,* ” Mississippi Valley Historical Review , 
XXIII (1936), 355-74; Burke, p. 223; Smedes, p. 47. 

57 Cf. George M. Rommel, “The Animal Industry of the South,” The South in the 
Building of the Nation , V, 252; Hopley, I, 83; Smedes, p. 45. 

6 1 


among planters and regions. Olmsted spent a few days at a 
farm in Maryland where there was a large dairy herd kept ex- 
clusively to supply milk for sale in Washington; and his griddle- 
cakes at a Virginia meal were soaked in butter; but at the best 
hotel in Norfolk he found the butter tainted and no milk obtain- 
able. 58 A South Carolina planter (who was using his cows as 
draft animals) explained to Gilmore that his cattle were no good 
as milkers and that he and his family used goat’s milk for cof- 
fee; they had imported their butter from the North for ten 
years. 59 Olmsted found the butter in the highlands of northern 
Alabama good, although there was no cheese. 69 Parsons report- 
ed that the Georgia crackers had no milk cows, 61 and Van Buren, 
in Mississippi, found less butter used than in the North. 62 Olm- 
sted called the butter served him in a Louisiana cabin “lard- 
like,” but they did have milk. 65 At none of the seven stores and 
two inns at Crockett, Texas, could he find butter, and at Austin 
and San Antonio the prices of milk, butter, and eggs put them 
out of reach of all but the well-to-do; 64 at a German home in 
New Braunfels he did have good butter. 65 In the big cities, at 
least, there was some use of ice cream. 

Corn was the all-important southern cereal. Loaves of wheat 
bread were seldom seen, perhaps because hot breads were pre- 
ferred. The well-to-do were likely to have a variety of breads, 
especially for breakfast. Mitchell gave as a typical southern 
breakfast, coffee, hot rolls, batter bread, corncake, milk, eggs, 
bacon, and wheat bread. 66 Olmsted had for breakfast at a Vir- 
ginia home fried fowl, fried bacon and eggs, cold ham, preserved 

s8 Seaboard Slave States , pp. 12, 80, and 306. 

59 Gilmore, p. 168. 

60 Back Country , p. 224. 62 P. 46. 

6j P. 1 14. 6 3 Texas Journey , p. 49. 

At Austin, milk retailed at 15-20 cents a quart, butter at from 40 to 50 cents a 
pound, eggs 25 cents a dozen ( Texas Journey , p. 1 1 5) ; specific prices are not. given for 
San Antonio (p. 157). The Crockett episode is recounted on p. 84. These prices may 
be compared with the prices in Maysville in 1 858 — cheese, 10-12J cents a pound, butter, 
10-20 cents ( Tri-Weekly Maysville Eagle). 

6s Texas Journey , p. 144. 66 P. 23. 



peaches and quinces, and grapes, hot wheaten biscuits, hot 
shortcake, hot corncake, hot griddlecakes soaked in butter, cof- 
fee, and sweet and sour milk . 67 As one proceeded down the in- 
come scale, the variety dropped out; and the common people 
rarely, if ever, had bread other than ordinary corn bread . 68 
Olmsted, in his journey across Texas, encountered wheat bread 
only twice . 65 

Although there seem to have been a good many people in the 
South — people such as the Georgia crackers, for instance — 
whose whole diet consisted of corn bread and bacon , 70 most of 
the people were able to add to it a moderate amount of garden 
vegetables, or “greens .” 71 Of these vegetables the most common 
were corn in its various forms (hominy and grits, and roasting 
ears), sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes when new, cabbages, peas, 
and beans. Okra was used more than in the North, though even 
in the South it was not consumed in very large amounts. As 
elsewhere, turnips and other root crops were little used except 
for feeding stock. According to Miss Boyd, the Alabamans might 
have, in their kitchen gardens, peas, greens, collards, beans, 
and cabbages; and the more progressive grew asparagus, beets, 
kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, egg- 
plant, lettuce, onions, peppers, radishes, spinach, squash, and 
tomatoes. Other needed foods they could buy at the stores . 72 
But the less well-to-do, she adds, had for vegetables only greens, 
snap beans, and occasionally a few garden vegetables . 73 Louisi- 
ana planters grew, for themselves and their families, such garden 
products as cabbages and turnips . 74 

67 Seaboard Slave States , p. 80. 

68 Cf. Burke, Hopley, Gilmore, Olmsted, Parsons, Van Buren; or, among recent 
writers, Boyd, Dodd, Phillips, Van Deusen. 

Texas Journey , p. 62. At Crockett and at New Braunfels he found crackers selling 
for 20 cents a pound, the New York price being 6 cents (pp. 84 and 179). 

7° Burke, p. 209; Parsons, p. 113. But even the sand-hillers usually raised corn and 
vegetables for themselves (Burke, p. 208). 

7 1 Van Deusen, p. 269; Dodd, Expansion and Conflict , p. 208; cf. also Phillips, Gil- 
more, Olmsted, Douglass, Hopley, Boyd. 

72 Pp. 1 12-13. 73 Ibid., p. 1 1 5. 

74 Northup, p. 174. 


Amelia Murray wrote that fruit was scarcer and dearer in 
Virginia and Carolina than in England/ 5 and it does seem to be 
true that only the well-to-do in the South can have had much 
fruit. There were few commercial orchards, though Negroes 
could sometimes gather wild fruit, and there were some apples 
and peaches for home consumption. Fresh oranges and lemons 
and fresh and preserved pineapple were advertised in the papers 
of southern cities, and a considerable amount of fruit was pre- 
served on the plantations. That fruits and vegetables were 
really abundant in the South is certainly untrue; but the picture 
of a diet limited to salt pork and corncakes probably errs as 
much in the other direction. 

Sweetenings in the South varied all the way from the loaf, 
crushed/and powdered sugars which the city stores imported to 
no sweetening at all. Except for the well-to-do, there was no 
use of refined sugar. 76 Molasses was much more used than in 
the North, especially in the sugar regions, and the southern 
states both produced and consumed more honey than did the 
northern states. 77 

The food of the slaves . — The slaves on some plantations fared 
much better than those on others: 

Some planters raised enough corn and made enough pork to feed the ne- 
groes throughout the year, while others purchased all or nearly all the food 

Merely from a business standpoint it was to the interest of the planter to 
furnish sufficient food and clothing to his slave to keep him in working order, 
and suffering for want of food was no doubt a thing of seldom occurrence. 
This food, however, was of a coarse kind, and though healthy, lacked variety. 
Olmsted considered it inferior to that furnished prison convicts at the North. 
From four to six (sometimes as high as ten) quarts of corn meal and a quart 
of molasses, were usually dealt out to the negroes each week. To this were 
sometimes added vegetables in their season and usually half a pound of 

?sHon. Amelia M. Murray, Letters from the United States , Cuba, and Canada (New 
York: G. P. Putnam & Co., 1856), p. 202. 

76 Olmsted found in one Texas town that no refined sugar could be purchased at any 
price ( Texas Journey , p. 84). In the Maysville market, throughout 1858, sugar was 
regularly quoted at 7^-8 J cents a pound. 

77 Olmsted wrote that in northern Alabama the usual sweetening was molasses, with 
honey frequently found {Back Country , p. 162). The Eighth Census showed a much 
larger production of honey in the South than in the North {Agriculture, pp. 1 84-87). 



bacon for every able bodied negro. Louisiana was the only state which re- 
quired by the law the furnishing of meat to slaves, and even there it does not 
seem always to have been observed, although it was generally practiced 
throughout the South. On most of the plantations the negroes were allowed 
to cultivate “truck patches, 1 ” and to raise poultry and sometimes a pig. 
What produce thus raised they did not themselves consume, they sold, and 
invested the returns in tobacco, whiskey, and Sunday finery. 

On some plantations, however, the slaves were not allowed to cultivate 
these “patches,” for it tempted them to reserve for cultivating their gardens in 
the evening the strength which should have been expended in the cotton 
field. 78 

The slaves raised pigs and chickens, and had gardens in which they grew 
sweet potatoes for themselves and, in the upper South, tobacco plants in the 
fence corners about the “quarters.” Every week the master allowed each 
grown person four pounds of meat, a peck of meal, and a quart of molasses, 
with something over for the little ones. The rest the slave was expected to 
find for himself — the Sunday chicken, the “greens” from the garden, and the 
potatoes from the cache in which they were stored away from the cold. The 
older slaves were allowed to keep dogs and to hunt coons and ’possums at 
night and, now and then, squirrels and rabbits at day [from William E. 
Dodd, “The Cotton Kingdom,” Volume 27, The Chronicles of America , 
copyright Yale University Press].™ 

The leading historian of southern agriculture, Lewis C. Gray, 
puts the standard ration at from i to if pecks of meal and 3! 
pounds of bacon a week for adults, and about half that for chil- 
dren (with considerable uniformity, especially in the cotton re- 
gions). Vegetables were frequently allowed in season, from the 
slaves’ own gardens or from that of the plantation. Even lux- 
uries — as molasses, fish, buttermilk, tobacco, rum, and coffee — 
were occasionally allotted. In the coastal region of South Caro- 

78 M. G. Hammond, The Cotton Industry (New York: Macmillan Co., 1897), pp. 90— 
92. The degree to which the plantations attained — or aspired to — self-sufficiency is still 
uncertain. Flanders (pp. 212 ff.) thinks that the self-sufficiency of the plantations, 
especially the smaller ones, has been underestimated, because too much attention has 
been paid travelers’ accounts. Andrew M. Soule (“Vegetables, Fruits and Nursery 
Products, and Truck Farming in the South,” in The South in the Building of the Nation , 
Vol. V; Economic History , 1607-1865 [Richmond: Southern Historical Pub. Soc., 1909], 
238) writes that the concentration on staples made the importation of a good many 
foods, even potatoes, necessary. Robert Russell, who studied American agriculture 
and resources in 1854-55, wrote that, despite the desire of the planters for self-suffi- 
ciency, almost all the bacon was imported from the North [North America: Its Agri- 
culture and Climate [Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1857], P* 265); see also 
Thompson and Jones, pp. 607 ff. 

79 P- 74- 



lina it was not generally customary to allow meat, as animal 
husbandry was not prevalent; and for the most part the diet 
consisted of sweet potatoes, grits or hominy, and broken rice. 80 
Olmsted gives the Louisiana minimum legal requirement as 4 
pounds of meat a week, a barrel of corn (i.e., a flour barrel of 
ears of corn), and salt. In North Carolina the prescribed allow- 
ance was 1 quart of corn a day, with no requirement for meat. 
No other state had any specific requirement. 81 

Food on the Frontier. — Among the states of the “Old North- 
west” there were regions which were well served by transporta- 
tion and which maintained close contact with the states farther 
east. In such regions the food-consumption habits were little 
different from those of the East: the cities drew upon the coun- 

80 Lewis Cecil Gray, History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to i860 
(Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1923), I, 563-64. 

81 Seaboard Slave States , p. 700. There is so much material dealing with the slaves’ 
food, and it is so easily available, that it seems unnecessary to make any extended com- 
ment here; see, e.g., the following: 

Reports by the planters themselves: DeBow, Industrial Resources , II, 33, 333-36; 
DeBow’s Review , XXIV (1858),. 325; [Ebenezer Starnes], The Slaveholder Abroad 
(Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., i860), pp. 493 ff. 

Accounts written by former slaves: Levi J. Coppin, U nwritten History (Philadelphia: 
A.M.E. Book Concern, 1900), pp. 40-41; Douglass, pp. 188-90; Northup, pp. 169-70, 
200-201; Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 
1902), pp. 3-4 and 9. 

Memoirs of plantation life: Avirett, pp. 58 and passim; Burke, pp. 1 12-13, 225-26; 
R. Q. Mallard, Plantation Life before Emancipation (Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, 
1892), p, 31; Smedes, p. 35. 

Books by contemporary travelers in the South: Pulszky, II, 105; Olmsted, Seaboard 
Slave States , pp. 108-10, 348-49, 431-32, 439, 660, 693, and Back Country , pp. 42, 50-51, 
74-76, 201; Parsons, pp. 151-54; Robert Russell, p. 266; William Howard Russell, 
My Diary North and South (New York: Harper & Bros., 1863), p. 266. 

Books and articles by recent historians: James Curtis Ballagh, A History of Slavery 
in Virginia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1902), pp. 102-3, 108; John 
Spencer Bassett, Slavery in the State of North Carolina (“Johns Hopkins University 
Studies in Historical and Political Science,” Ser. XVII, Nos. 7-8 [Baltimore, 1899]), 
pp. 85-87; Flanders, pp. 157-59; Guion .Griffis Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , 
pp. 522-23, and A Social History of the Sea Islands (Chapel Hill: University of North 
Carolina Press, 1930), pp, 85-87; Ivan E. McDougle, Slavery in Kentucky , 1792-1865 
(reprinted from Journal of Negro History , Vol. Ill, No. 3 [1918]), p. 73; V. Alton Moody, 
Slavery on Louisiana Sugar Plantations (reprinted from Louisiana Historical Quarterly , 
April, 1924), pp. 64-65, 74-78; Caleb Perry Patterson, The Negro in Tennessee , iypo~ 
1865 (Bull. 2205) (Austin: University of Texas, 1922), pp. 25-26, 67-68; Phillips, 
pp. 265-66; Rosser, Howard Taylor, Slave-holding in North Carolina: An Economic 
View (“James Sprunt Historical Publications,” Vol. XVIII, Nos. 1-2 [Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina Press, 1926]), pp. 83-84, 89-91. 



tryside, they had their markets for meat and produce, and they 
had access to the products of other regions and other countries ; 
even the rural areas could have as much variety in their food- 
stuffs as could the rural areas of the East. These favored re- 
gions shaded off imperceptibly into other parts of the same 
states, which were as much frontier as Nebraska or Oregon. 
Erastus F. Beadle, who was traveling through the West early in 
1857, noted in his diary for March 12 that in the region between 
Michigan City and Indianapolis, where the dwellings were the 
“poorest kind of logg huts,” the food was only corn and pork, 
varied with “shakes.” 82 In 1859, when Anna Howard Shaw was 
a child, her family migrated to Michigan. They had brought 
with them coffee, pork, and flour enough for several weeks, 
which they could cook over a mud-and-stone fireplace. Water 
had to be brought from a distant creek. They could gather wild 
fruit — gooseberries, raspberries, and plums — they could fish, 
and they raised a little green corn and potatoes; but for the 
first winter they lived largely on corn meal, which they obtained 
from the nearest mill, twenty miles away. Another family lived 
entirely on coarse yellow turnips, changing to leeks in the 
spring. 83 

In rural Illinois corn bread and salted or smoked pork were 
the staples, varied in the later- fifties by wheat bread and buck- 
wheat cakes. Corn mush and milk was a common dish. For 
fresh meat, a hog or a beef killed in the fall would be divided 
among the families in the community. Apples and peaches were 
dried, as were pumpkins, and there were pickles and preserves 
of various sorts. 84 Toward i860 there was fresh meat more fre- 
quently on the tables of the prosperous. 83 Anthony Trollope, 
who probably didn’t see much of the back country of the North- 

82 To Nebraska in '57 (New York: Public Library, 1923), p. 6. What sort of food 
he meant by “shakes” I have been unable to discover. 

Anna Howard Shaw, The Story of a Pioneer (New York: Harper & Bros., 1915)1 
PP- 30 - 3 Z- 

8 4 Charles B. Johnson, Illinois in the Fifties (Champaign, 111 .: Flanigan-Pearson 
Co., 1918), pp. 15-20. 

85 Albert J. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln i 1809-1858 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 
Co., 1928), II, 198. 



west, commented that even the laboring Irish in Michigan, Wis- 
consin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and other western states ate 
meat seven days a week. 86 Orchards took time to get started, 
and in the newer regions the pioneers had to depend upon wild 
fruits and berries for that part of their diet; they could, and 
some did, have gardens with all sorts of vegetables. In some 
parts of the Northwest there were large amounts of maple sugar 
produced, and in others farmers raised sorghum ; molasses and 
cane sugar had to be imported and were expensive. 

West of the Mississippi bacon and corn bread were to an even 
greater degree the mainstay of the popular diet, supplemented 
occasionally by beef and eggs and by dried peaches and apples. 
Some of the more enterprising had gardens, there were a few 
wild fruits and berries and some game — venison, prairie fowl, 
wild turkey, rabbits, squirrels. 87 

Utah had been settled long enough for different levels in con- 
sumption to appear. In the best homes there were beef, mutton, 
pork, bacon, smoked and dried fish, cheese, and butter; cab- 
bages, corn, onions, squashes, pumpkins, beans, peas, potatoes, 
watermelons, cantaloupes; grapes, strawberries, blackberries, 
and gooseberries. People had their own gardens in which they 
raised garden truck, they dried their own apples, and they put 
up berry preserves. In the outlying districts smoked and salted 
meat and potatoes were at times the only foods, supplemented in 
some places by fish, while in the newer communities the pioneers 
were living on corn bread, dried meat, and potatoes for the most 
part — they had johnnycake, corn dumplings, and corn-meal 
porridge. Dried pumpkins and baked squashes were delicacies. 
By the fifties wheat bread was fairly common, and there were 
homemade sausages, molasses, and honey.- 88 Prices were low for 

86 North America (New York: Harper & Bros., 1 862), p. 120. 

87 Everett Dick, The Sod-House Frontier , 1854-1890 (New York: D. Apple ton-Cen- 
tury Co., 1937), pp. 62-63; Samuel Bowles, Across the Continent (Springfield, Mass.: 
Samuel Bowles & Co., 1865), p. 21 Burton, p. 23; Sara T. L. Robinson, Kansas: Its 
Interior and Exterior Life (Boston: Crosby, Nichols & Co., 1856), p. 4. Samuel J. 
Crawford, Kansas in the Sixties (Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 191 1), pp. 8-9, John H. 
Gihon, Geary and Kansas (Philadelphia: Charles C. Rhodes, 1857), p. 14. 

88 Levi E. Young, The Founding of Utah (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1923), 
pp. 241-44; see also Remy and Brenchley, I, 190, and II, 267-72; Horace Greeley, An 


foods that could be produced locally, but the high freights made 
imported foodstuffs costly (see Appen. C, Table 32). 

It was on the mining frontier that the diet was most severely 
limited. When Horace Greeley arrived in Denver in 1859, he 
found the staples of consumption were bread, bacon, beans, and 
coffee. Antelope was to be had occasionally, and some persons 
were eating boiled nettles. 89 In June, 1859, radishes, lettuce, on- 
ions, and peas, all locally produced, were on sale in Denver mar- 
kets. There were gardens along the Platte River and on the 
creeks and more extensive farming on the Arkansas River and 
its branches, supplying wagonloads of garden truck to Denver 
and the camps. Most foods were still brought from the Missouri 
River region by ox trains (sometimes the oxen themselves were 
eaten, on arrival), but large quantities were coming in from 
New Mexico and Utah. By 1 860 irrigated farming was an estab- 
lished occupation, especially along the Arkansas; and vege- 
tables, corn, grain, and melons were being raised. 90 

In that year Denver had its milkman, its iceman, and its 
vendor of vegetables; and there were “in the groceries, rich yel- 
low pumpkins, potatoes, beets; turnips, cucumbers, and mel- 
ons.” Turnips, beets, and lettuce were also being grown in a 
little valley near Breckenridge. 91 Fresh fruit was still almost un- 
obtainable, except for wild berries, plums, and cherries, and im- 
ported apples sold for from 10 to 25 cents each, peaches up to 
$i.'oo each. Dried apples, some canned fruit, and vegetables 
were to be had, and butter, milk, and eggs were usually obtain- 

Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 (New York: 
C. M. Saxton, Barker & Co., i860), pp. 236-37; Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of 
Utah (San Francisco: History Co., 1889), p. 378. 

Fortunately for our knowledge of this period in Colorado history, we have the 
personal accounts of three well-known newspapermen — Horace Greeley, Henry Villard, 
and Albert J. Richardson — who were there and taking part. For the diet on Greeley’s 
arrival see his Recollections of a Busy Life (New York: J. B. Ford & Co., 1868), p. 366, 
and also his Overland Journey , pp. 164-65. Villard {The Past and Present of the Pike 7 s 
Peak Gold Regions , reprinted from i860 ed. with Introduction and Notes by L. R. 
Hafen [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1932], p. 26) also speaks of bacon, 
beans, coffee, and gritty bread made of Mexican flour as being the only food in the 
spring of 1859. 

9 ° Hafen, pp* 122-25. 

91 Richardson, pp. 297, 300, 310. 



able at fair prices. Venison was 7 cents a pound, bear 30 cents, 
ducks 50 cents a pair. 92 ' In the camps the miners did their own 
cooking — flapjacks, beans, and coffee — and prices were higher — 
flour $44 a barrel at first, bacon and sugar 50 cents a pound. But 
by i860 there was fresh beef and game and even a few vege- 
tables. 93 

What was true in Colorado was true in Nevada. The sudden 
increase in population and the sudden increase in the output of 
the precious metals, acting on a market which could not respond 
very rapidly, made for a restricted diet and high food prices. 
In Virginia City, in April, i860, flour was selling for $1.00 a 
pound; in July it had dropped to 10 cents. Until May or June 
brown sugar was 50 cents a pound, rice 45 cents, butter $ 1 . 00 . 
By October 27 the price of flour had fallen to 14 cents a pound. 94 
In the Carson Valley, Capt. J. H. Simpson, a government ex- 
plorer, found the cattle and hogs fat and sleek, the butter rich, 
and the wheat and barley doing well; but little corn or oats had 
been grown. There were a few peaches, but no apples or grapes. 
All the garden vegetables and strawberries, raspberries, and 
gooseberries were thriving. There were Irish potatoes, but no 
sweet potatoes. 95 

Washington and (except for a few permanent settlements) 
Oregon had been settled only by traders and trappers until the 
mining discoveries just before i860; and the few miners who had 
come in lived under even more primitive conditions than those 
of Colorado and Nevada. Bread, bacon, beans, and coffee com- 
prised almost their whole diet, and transportation costs made 
food prices high. Vegetables were in demand, for lack of them 
was known to cause scurvy, but not many were to be had. There 
were fish, but few had time to go fishing. 96 Throughout the 

92 Hafen, p. 151; see also Appen. C, Table 40. 

93 Hafen, p. 153; Villard, pp. 48, 79-80, 112-13. 

9 4 Charles Howard Shinn, The Story of the Mine (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 
1897), p. 74; see also Appen. C, Table 31. 

95 Report of Explorations across the Great Basin of the Territory of Utah . ... in 1859 
(Washington: Government Printing Office, 1876), p. 92. 

96 George W. Fuller, A History of the Pacific Northwest (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 
I93 1 ), P- 2 79- 



West the diet of the traders and trappers, alone or at posts, was 
much the same — cured meat, game, beans, and coffee; rarely did 
they have even bread. 

After the first flush of the mining fever had worn off in Cali- 
fornia, there was a powerful stimulus for the state to become 
self-supporting as far as food was concerned — the high cost of 
transportation and the length of time it required gave the local 
producer a “protected” market. Production of cereals and of 
dairy products increased much more rapidly during the fifties 
than did population. 97 In i860 California packed all the meat 
needed for its own consumption, and the imports of eastern lard 
and butter decreased by half. 98 There had been herds of beef 
cattle in California for many years, and the numbers of swine 
and sheep were increasing. Chickens were rather plentiful, 
turkeys less so, and there was some game. 99 Greeley wrote that 
in 1859 California was still far from supplying her own wants 
when it came to dairy products. Good butter was 50 cents a 
pound in San Francisco and had a “white, insipid look.” Cheese, 
at 25 cents, was seldom seen. 100 

In San Francisco imported bananas, pineapples, and cocoa- 
nuts were to be had, and there was a plentiful supply of garden 
produce from the vicinity. Corn on the cob and succotash were 
among the favorite dishes. 101 Around Los Angeles there were 
wheat, corn, barley, oats, beans, peas and chick-peas, lentils, 
sugar cane, mulberries, sweet potatoes, potatoes, watermelons, 
muskmelons, vegetables of all sorts, fruit trees of various kinds, 
including pears, apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, almonds, wal- 
nuts, and oranges; and there were citrons, figs, lemons, and 
vineyards. 102 Eugene Bandel wrote, late in 1859, that melons, 

97 Robert Glass Cleland and Osgood Hardy, March of Industry (Los Angeles: 
Powell Pub. Co., 1929), pp. 41— 49. 

98 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XLV (1861), 66. 

"Harris Newmark, Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853-1913 (New York: 
Knickerbocker Press, 1916), p. 124. 

100 Overland Journey, pp. 345-46. 101 Sutherland, pp. 65, 175-76, 189. 

103 Remy and Brenchley, II, 477-78. Truck gardening had been introduced around 
Los Angeles in the early fifties (Newmark, p. 124). For an enthusiastic description of 



peaches, figs, pears, grapes, and watermelons were on the mar- 
ket in Benecia, Los Angeles, and other cities in Southern Cali- 
fornia. There were no apples yet, but some were expected from 
Oregon . 103 

summary: the diet of the fifties 

General characteristics . — Before going on to other matters, it 
would perhaps be well to look at some of the broader phases of 
food consumption— too much attention to detail may leave one 
with no general impressions at all. I have given in Table I parts 


Consumption of Foodstuffs in the United States at 
Selected Periods 

(Pounds per Capita) 













Wheat flour 


15. 1 




13. 1 



* Source: Cummings, pp. 236-37. The original data are from various 
sources and for the earlier periods are to be regarded as approximate 
only. As Cummings points out, the data are not really for ‘‘consump- 
tion” but for “disappearance” of foodstuffs. 

of a table compiled by Cummings. Whatever its deficiencies, 
it is sufficiently accurate to indicate a few trends in food con- 
sumption. One striking characteristic is the decline in meat 
consumption since the Civil War. Inclusion of data for the in- 
tervening decades would only confirm this, since the decade of 
the fifties was the peak for meat consumption. (In the only 
family budget I have seen for this period in which the allocation 

fruitgrowing in California and its possibilities see Greeley, Overland. Journey , pp. 329- 
30, 337> 339* Cleland and Hardy, however, write that horticulture was still unde- 
veloped, because men had neither the capital nor the inclination to wait for orchards 
to bear, because of the difficulties of transporting stock, and because of the lack of 
experience under the new conditions. 

103 Frontier Life in the Army , ed. Ralph P. Bieber, trans. Olga Bandel and Richard 
Jente (“Southwestern Historical Ser.,” Vol. II [Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 
3:93a]), p. 289. For prices in Southern California see ibid., pp. 302-15. 



among the various food items is shown — the budget is given in 
full on p. 394 below — a third of all the money spent for food 
went for meat.) I am not sure that I know all, nor even the 
most important, reasons for this large consumption of meat. 
One reason certainly was the large amount of unoccupied land 
relative to the population, which made grazing, and therefore 
livestock, cheap. This could hardly account for the large con- 
sumption of pork and pork products; 104 but, even for these, 
cheap land and cheap feed were undoubtedly a factor. That 
meat was inexpensive meant that people could afford it; that 
they did use it in such quantities is at least partly to be ex- 
plained by the fact that — apart from bread — there was little else 
to eat. With meat cheap and fruits and vegetables out of reach, 
it was natural that meat consumption should be large. It is also 
to be remembered that most of the population worked long 
hours at hard work and had corresponding appetites. Whatever 
the reasons, the decline in meat consumption is an obvious fact; 
the consumption of fresh meat has by no means declined so 
much and may possibly (I am by no means sure of this) not have 
declined at all. 

Another trend which the table shows plainly is the decrease 
in the consumption of cereals in recent years, following an in- 
crease in the first part of the century (the peak consumption of 
wheat flour — 226 pounds per capita — was reached in the decade 
1870-79). This is easier to explain. In earlier times bread had 
been really the “staff of life” and was, in fact, almost the only 
food. Throughout western Europe one mark of the rising scale 
of living was the substitution of other foods for bread, and the 
same has been true in this country — and is still going on. The 
increase in flour consumption in the earlier period resulted from 
increasing productivity and a- higher standard (“level”) of liv- 
ing; the more recent decrease has resulted from an increase in 
productivity so great as to make possible a complete change in 
dietary habits. What the table does not and cannot show is the 
change in the flour itself. Flour in the fifties was manufactured 

Miss Kyrk points out that these represent a larger proportion of fat meat, as com- 
pared with muscle, than do meats from other animals. 



by quite different processes; not only was a greater proportion 
of whole meal used, but even the white flour probably had some- 
what different characteristics from today’s white flour. 

Nearly four times as much sugar is consumed now as in the 
fifties, though it must be remembered that this increase in sugar 
consumption coincides with a decrease in the consumption of 
molasses, syrup and sorghum, and honey, which in the fifties 
were more common sweetenings than was sugar. 

I have no figures for vegetable consumption, but it is signifi- 
cant that in the family budget already mentioned no vegetables 
but potatoes were included. Even though the figures are lack- 
ing, we need have no hesitation in saying that the consumption 
of both fruit and vegetables has increased enormously since the 
Civil War, and particularly in the present century. Not only 
has the amount increased, but there have been changes in kind 
as well — an increase in citrus fruits and in green and leafy vege- 
tables. The low consumption in i860 is partly attributable to 
"economic” factors, such as the lack of the necessary refrigera- 
tion and rapid transportation, the immaturity of the canning 
industry, and the low level of purchasing power resulting from 
the low average productivity. It is also attributable partly to 
the ignorance of the science of nutrition and of the protective 
properties of fresh fruits and vegetables. Still another reason 
was that the people just didn’t care enough about these foods to 
be willing to take the trouble to have gardens of their own — or 
that, in those strenuous days, they lacked time and energy. 

Figures are lacking also for milk consumption, except those I 
have already given. The family budget cited on the preceding 
pages allows for the consumption of only about a fifth of a pint a 
day for the whole family, according to Cummings’ estimate, and 
certainly the urban milk consumption was very small. Again, 
we can explain this partly by the lack of refrigeration and rapid 
transportation, partly by the ignorance of the food value of 
milk, partly by low purchasing power. 

The whole recent tendency toward the use of more highly re- 
fined foods, less quickly perishable, put up in more attractive 
form, but lacking some of the food values of the natural, un- 



processed foods, is something which must be kept in mind. And, 
as Cummings points out, “modern standards of diet, strictly 
speaking . . . . , are not applicable to conditions of life a century 
ago. People benefited from a vigorous life with plenty of sun- 
shine and fresh air, and so perhaps had less need of protective 
foods than people today.” 105 

JVas it good food ? — Contemporary accounts would hardly lead 
us to believe that the food of 1 860 was good food, well prepared. 
Cookery, of course, is hardly a science, and a critical appraisal 
must needs be “unscientific”; we must remember, too, that 
those who had most to say about American cooking were those 
who did not simply take it for granted — were, in other words, 
travelers, who may well have carried their local prejudices along 
with them. (If an Englishman doesn’t like American meat, is it 
the meat or his taste which is at fault? If a northerner expresses 
his dislike for southern cooking, is the cooking bad, or is it just 
different ?) Some of these opinions I have mentioned in passing ; 
there is no lack of interesting material for further quotation, but 
it would take us too far afield. Even when all allowances are 
made, there is still an abundance of evidence to support the 
familiar dictum that poor cooking is a characteristic of democ- 

Contemporary observers and some later historians have been 
of the opinion that Americans ate too much animal food. An 
even more insistent criticism was that there was too much frying 
of food and that the food consumed was too rich, with the result 
that dyspepsia was a common complaint. Thomas Low Nichols, 
an American physician who took up residence in England just 
before the Civil War, wrote: 

The Americans, like the English, have a lack of skill in cookery. They 
make dishes enough. A common breakfast bill of fare will comprise twenty 
dishes. But butter and lard are so cheap that they are used with great pro- 
fusion, and the best viands and vegetables are rendered indigestible. Hot 
bread, made with lard and strong alkalies, and soaked with butter, hot griddle 
cakes covered with butter and syrup; meats fried in fat or baked in it; po- 
tatoes dripping with grease; ham and eggs fried in grease into a leathery 

”5 P. 24. 



indigestibility — all washed down with many cups of strong Brazil coffee — 
these are some of the things which Americans eat for breakfast, and when they 
fall ill — as of course they must — then come loads of all the medicines adver- 
tised in their newspapers or given by their doctors . 106 

Such criticisms were common. 107 I am inclined to think that 
Americans were — and are — too much given to frying their food, 
but whether the apparent decrease in “dyspepsia” since the 
fifties is the result of refinements in cookery and eating habits I 
am not so sure. One does get the impression that in the middle 
years of the nineteenth century nearly everyone suffered from 
dyspepsia, 108 but a large part of this is certainly to be accounted 
for by the lack of precise diagnosis. 

There is at least one good reason for believing that Americans 
lacked a well-developed taste for food: time after time one reads 
that they ate in a hurry. Even in the most luxurious hotel din- 
ing-rooms, apparently, the guests rushed in, gulped down their 
food as fast as they could, and then dashed out again. It is hard 
to believe that a people so given to bolting their food can really 
have enjoyed eating it or have developed much skill in its prepa- 
ration. We can hardly blame the American family for not hav- 
ing had fresh foods the year around or for the lack of variety in 
their diet. But there should have been plenty of good, whole- 
some food — the country was still an agricultural country, and 
there were great opportunities for home production of garden 
truck — and such food does not demand elaborate preparation. 
More than that, some Americans displayed a certain ingenuity 

106 Nichols, I, 369. 

10 7 A modern historian writes: “The variety of foods which Chicagoans of the 
’fifties and ’sixties might have did not guarantee, however, freshness, good quality, and 
careful cooking. Visitors to the city complained that the fish of the Upper Lakes was 
coarse and that meats were either almost raw or swimming in grease; and Chicagoans 
themselves held that much of the cooking done in the city was ‘only a few degrees 
removed from the savages’ that had been driven ‘off the soil.’ .... Lack of moderation 
in eating and ignorance as to the proper balance of goods and as to food combinations 
demanded a toll in digestive upsets, for which, however, there were advertised in- 
numerable cures” (Pierce, II, 463); cf. also Rhodes, III, 70. 

108 J. D. Burns wrote that dyspepsia pressed upon the whole people but attributed 
it to the bolting of food and to the “misuse of saliva” (p. 4). As early as 1859 the New 
York Times announced that the reign of “Dyspepsia Regina” seemed to be nearing an 
end (. New York Times , October 15, 1869, cited by Cummings, pp. 72^73). 



in creating new dishes, making use of indigenous foodstuffs. 109 
Somehow, the greater part of the population seem not to have 
cared whether their food was skilfully cooked, as long as there 
was plenty of it. Probably a good appetite due to hard labor had 
something to do with it. 


Liquor . — The Americans had from the beginning been great 
drinkers of hard liquor, and they were great drinkers in i860. 
In the big cities there were bars by the thousand, and in the 
smaller cities by the hundred; in rural regions the crossroads 
tavern was the general meeting place. The amount of drinking 
at hotel bars and the universality of the custom of standing 
treat convinced many foreigners that an enormous amount of 
liquor was consumed; others, annoyed by the “Maine Law” and 
astonished at the popularity of the temperance movement, 
thought the Americans were becoming a nation of teetotalers. 
George Augustus Sala, the British journalist, showed greater 
insight than did most of his compatriots: 

When seltzer and sherry are taken, they are gulped down in the morning, 
to cure the ailments known as “hot coppers” or “whiskey in the hair.” As a 
rule, our cousins loathe the very sight of port wine; but they drink it some- 
times, because it is very dear and sounds grand. Hot grog is sometimes im- 
bibed in the winter time, but it is taken standing — and gulped, not sipped. 
Much as you may have heard about mint juleps, egg noggs, smashes, Windsor- 
coolers, skins, morning glory, Tom and Jerry, private smiles, corpse revivers, 
fiscal agents, four-forty-four, Jersey lightning, monitor, swamp-angel, eye- 

109 Jefferson Williamson lists as American contributions clam and fish chowder; 
pumpkin and sweet-potato pie; a number of corn preparations, including corn on the 
cob, Indian pudding, corn fritters, succotash, hominy; catsup, and other tomato prepa- 
rations, including soup, Saratoga chips; chicken a la king; Philadelphia pepper pot; 
porterhouse steak; flapjacks, Graham bread, cinnamon buns; Parker House rolls; 
chocolate pie; candied yams; and, a little later than the fifties, lobster k la Newberg 
(The American Hotel: An Anecdotal History [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930), 

110 The inclusion of liquor in the chapter on food, for this ante bellum period, needs 
no defense; for putting tobacco in the same chapter I can give none — it simply fits 
nowhere else, yet is not sufficiently important to justify a separate chapter. 

I have not taken it upon myself, here or elsewhere, to discuss the other "vices,” 
though some of them, such as gambling and prostitution, undeniably have their 
economic aspects. 



opener, mustache-twister, gin-sling, timble doodle, stone fence, with other 
professed “American drinks” — there are said to be three hundred and sixty- 
five of them, one for every day in the year — the majority of these high- 
sounding beverages are of a purely “fancy” order, devised by cunning bar- 
keepers down town to puff their establishments, and others are purely mythi- 
cal. In very hot weather a cobbler or a julep is occasionally taken; but, 
throughout the states, and in all classes of society, the two universal drinks are, 
early in the morning, the cocktail — a mixture of alcohol, bitters, and sugar — 
and at any period of the day or night a dram of Bourbon whiskey very slightly 
diluted, with ice water. The drinkers rush into a bar; the bar-keeper hands 
them the whiskey bottle; they pour out as much or as little as they choose, 
add a dash of water, and swallow the mixture as though it were a seidlitz 
powder. No other mystery is there in the grand ceremony of “taking the 
oath,” “putting oneself outside suthin’,” or “liquoring up.” And then they bolt 
away from the bar, to meet perhaps on the threshold a friend, with whom they 
immediately return, and “take the oath,” or “put themselves outside suthin* ” 

At the first blush, the Americans strike a foreigner as being an exceedingly 
drunken people. You hear of cabinet ministers, clergymen, judges, barristers, 
senators, members of the Legislature, being habitually “tight.” You cannot 
fail to observe an immense amount of “tightness” during your walks abroad. 
But, on closer acquaintance, you become aware of the existence of a very 
large section of the community who are total abstainers from every kind of 
fermented beverage. Nor are they necessarily temperance orators or professed 
teetotalers. They don't drink, that is all. Drinking or “taking tobacco” are 
looked upon in decent society in the country towns as simply vicious and 
shameful habits, and nothing is commoner than to hear a person spoken of as 
“having no vices,” meaning that he neither drinks, smokes, nor chews. 
As regards the other sex, ninety-nine women out of a hundred' never touch 
anything stronger than iced-water, tea, and coffee. 111 

The manufacture and consumption of beer, and especially of 
lager beer, increased steadily after about x 840, chiefly owing to 
the increase in the German population. In cities where the Ger- 
man population was' large, as New York, Cincinnati, and St. 
Louis, beer gardens were much frequented. It is difficult to 
write about the consumption of beer and ale (porter and stout 
were but little used) in quantitative terms, as the statistics are 
notoriously unreliable. The 3,812,346 barrels reported to the 
i860 Census would have represented about 3I gallons per capi- 
ta; 113 but, while imports were insignificant, there may well have 
been considerable home-brewing which did not get into the re- 

111 Sala, 11,313-15. 

1X3 The Census figures are discussed critically in Wells and others, pp. 24-25. 



ports. An official estimate places the per capita consumption of 
all malt beverages at 3.22 gallons in i860. This shows a con- 
siderable rise over the 1.36 gallons in 1840 but is far short of the 
20.66 gallons reached in 1911, the peak year (from which it de- 
clined to 14.59 gallons in 1918). 113 Brewing continued to be a 
large-scale industry, and the output, whatever its quality, was 
low in price — about six dollars a barrel seems to have been the 
usual wholesale price. 

The Census returns for distilled liquors include industrial al- 
cohol, so that they are useless in estimating liquor consumption. 
The Revenue Commission was unable to reach any conclusion 
as to the actual consumption of spirits prior to the imposition of 
the Civil War excise tax. It pointed out that raw whiskey had 
almost everywhere retailed at 7-15 cents a quart, or 25-40 
cents a gallon, and that farmers frequently bought it by the 
barrel for the free use of their hands. 114 The usual price for all 
drinks, plain or fancy, in the best bars was 10 cents; in the Far 
West transportation costs made them more expensive. In Den- 
ver whiskey was $ 3.00 a gallon in 1859, but plentiful at 25 cents 
a drink. In Salt Lake City it was even more expensive, and in 
China Town, Nevada, it was $3.00 a gallon as at Denver. 115 By 
the early sixties the price of liquor in San Francisco had gone 
down to the eastern price of a dime a glass; and the customer, 
besides helping himself freely from the bottle, could enjoy a free 
lunch of bread, cheese, cold meats, sausages, and the like. 116 All 

“3 The Statistical Record of the Progress of the United States , 1800-1920, p. 799. The 
basis for estimate is not indicated, but it obviously fails to make any allowance for home- 
brewed and otherwise unreported beer. 

114 Wells et al. y pp. 166, 169. The Statistical Record of the Progress of the United States 
puts the consumption of distilled beverages in i860 at 89,968,651 gallons, or 2.86 
gallons per capita. The method of computation is no;t stated, but I suspect that the 
figure includes industrial alcohol. The 2.86 per capita in i860 was the high point, from 
which it fell to 0.88 gallons in 1918 (p. 799). 

1IS Hafen, “Supplies and Market Prices in Pioneer Denver/' Colorado Magazine , 
IV (1927), 137; Greeley, Recollections , p. 366; T. S. Kenderdine, A California Tramp 
(Newtown, Pa., 1888), pp. 109-10; Greeley, Overland Journey , pp. 201-2; Simpson, 
p. 90. For other liquor prices see U.S. Department of the Treasury, Annual Report of 
the Secretary for the Year 1863 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1863), pp. 
354-55; also Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XLV (1861), 46-47. 

116 Sutherland, pp. 26-27. 

8 o 


over the country the bulk of consumption was made up of cheap 
raw whiskey; in many dives in the big cities it was viciously adul- 
terated. Rum — in earlier days the great American drink — 
seems to have waned in popularity. 

There was a time, just before the Civil War, when it appeared 
that the United States might become a wine-drinking nation. 
The fifties saw the birth of commercial wine manufacture; and 
in Ohio, New York, California, and other states large vineyards 
were coming into production. But, while some of the wealthy 
served wine at their formal dinners, they consumed little in the 
family circle; and the attempts to popularize wine-drinking 
among the common people made no headway . 117 

I do not feel any competence to interpret the trends in liquor 
consumption. The people of i 860 led a strenuous physical life, 
their standard of living was (compared with ours) low, and they 
had neither time nor opportunity for the sort of recreation they 
needed. The laboring classes must have felt impelled to escape 
from a rather brutal sort of existence through an equally brutal 
sort of indulgence. For many the saloon was the only place to 
be sociable. The decline in the consumption of such liquors is 
the result of numerous factors: the growth of the temperance 
movement and the popularization of soft drinks were direct in- 
fluences, while the increasing amount of leisure and the rise in 
the standard of living also played a part; perhaps the spread of 
education deserves some credit. But, certainly, as life became 
less rough, there was less need for a rough sort of escape from 
it. This, as well as the growth in the German population, helps 
explain also the growth in the consumption of beer — a milder, 
less stimulating (or less deadening) beverage. One might have 
expected that the United States would become a nation of wine- 
drinkers, but the Americans failed to acquire any capacity for 
quiet, leisurely enjoyment. The cultivation of a taste for wine 
•was out of keeping with the nervous, active temperament which 
continues to be characteristic of this country 

117 The Statistical Record of the Progress of the United States estimated the consump- 
tion of wine at 10,804,687 gallons, or 0.34 gallons per capita, in i860. The peak was 
reached in 1909 and 1911, with a per capita consumption of 0.67 gallons, from which 
it declined to 0.48 gallons per capita in 1918 (p. 799) . 



The use of tobacco in i860 . — The form in which the official re- 
ports of the production and manufacture of tobacco are given 
for the ante bellum period makes it impossible to be at all sure 
about the amount actually consumed. Gratton refers to an 
(unidentified) official estimate of annual consumption made in 
1 842, which placed consumption at 7 pounds per capita, which 
is slightly above present consumption. 118 But a calculation by 
D. W. Cheever in i860 put the consumption at only about 2 
pounds per capita in 1 840 and 3! pounds in 1 850. 119 My own im- 
pression, obtained from various manipulations of the i860 data, 
is that the per capita consumption was not greatly less than it 
is today. 

But there can be no doubt that the form in which tobacco is 
used has changed, if the amount has not. Probably more than 
half the tobacco used in i860 was chewed. 120 Baxter wrote that 
"thousands of men all over the Union keep their jaws in per- 
petual motion from sunrise to sunset”; 121 and this chewing and 
spitting that went with it provoked derisive comment from al- 
most every single visitor to the country in the fifties and sixties. 
Snuff dipping was also common among women of the lower so- 
cial scale, particularly in the South. Cigarettes were not yet 
used, but cigars, most of them very cheap in price, 122 were 
smoked in great number. (The statement is frequently made in 
reference to this period that with cigars three for a cent and 
whisky a quarter a gallon dissipation was hardly an extrava- 
gance.) There was a good deal of pipe-smoking, but almost en- 

118 1, 65 n. 

“Tobacco,” Atlantic Monthly, VI (i860), 191-92. 

130 As late as 1 880, three-fourths of the manufactures were plug and fine-cut chewing, 
and although plug was used to some extent for pipe tobacco, only about half the total 
was used for smoking (J. R. Dodge, “Statistics of Manufacture of Tobacco and of Its 
Commercial Distribution, Exportation, and Prices,” Tenth Census, Vol. Ill: Produc- 
tions of Agriculture [Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883], p. 890). 

121 William Edward Baxter, America and the Americans (London: G. Routledge & 
Co., 1855), p. 104. 

122 All tobacco prices were low. The average retail price of snuff in Massachusetts 
during the fifties was 26^ a pound, and the price of smoking tobacco was 28^ a pound 
(Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year 1885, p. 
452 ). 



tirely of clay pipes. Some men had their meerschaums, but 
briar pipes, with hard-rubber mouthpieces, were only just be- 
ginning to come into use. Pipe-smoking among women, as now, 
was confined to the lowest class and chiefly to the out-of-the- 
way districts; among very old women smoking seems not to 
have been unusual/ (While the fifties saw the beginnings of the 
commercial manufacture of chewing gum, 123 it did not for many 
years become at all important. Children outside the cities con- 
tinued to chew the natural gums, usually spruce gum, as they 
had for many years past and continued to do for many more 

12 3 The Scientific American (II [January 28, 1860], 67) reported that a single manu- 
facturer had produced 7,000,000 rolls — which the periodical figured was the equivalent 
of four times that many “chews” — in six months of 1859. At least one brand of spruce 
chewing gum was widely advertised, laying particular stress upon its beneficial effects 
upon the teeth and breath (Pierce, II, 462). Sala (I, 245) wrote of chewing gum being 
on sale at drugstores. 




The importance of housing . — Shelter is second only to food as a 
basic necessity of life; but it is even more difficult to set up ob- 
jective standards for adequacy in housing than it is for ade- 
quacy in diet. Some measures for volume, heating, lighting, and 
the like might be applied, but general agreement as to minimum 
standards would still be lacking. As a practical matter these 
minimum standards are irrelevant, anyway. Of the amount 
spent for housing, in i860 or today, only a relatively small pro- 
portion would be required if the only demand were protection of 
life against the rigors of climate; the larger proportion goes to- 
ward satisfying the desire for comfort, convenience, and beauty, 
and toward keeping up appearances. 

His home — and it is significant that this was even more true 
in i860 than it is now — is the place where a person spends most 
of his time. It is a place to be lived in* — the center of his ex- 
istence. A pleasant home life is more important to him than are 
all the pleasures to be found outside the home; and, while family 
relationships are the most significant element in such a home 
life, it is worth pointing out that inadequacies in housing may 
themselves contribute to family discord. But what makes a 
home attractive? What makes it a pleasant place to live in? 
This is the sort of question the economist, who studiously avoids 
value judgments, is likely to dismiss as “outside his field.” It is 
not so much a question of the use of resources as it is of taste: 
good taste may make a cottage a delight; lack of it may make the 
mansion unbearable. 

How, then, are we to evaluate housing in i860? Many 
people found their homes lacking in attractiveness because 
the economy could not make better houses available to 


8 4 


them; many others had to blame only their lack of taste and 
lack of interest. There is no way I can strike a balance between 
these two — all I can do is to describe conditions as they actually 
were. First, however, I want to summarize the attainments in 
house design and construction by i860. I need not emphasize 
the fact that the economy could not have made available to 
everyone houses as good as architects could then plan them and 
builders build them. These were only for the well-to-do. 

Architectural characteristics of the period . 1 — The United States 
has never developed a distinctive style of architecture; and in 
i860, perhaps even more than now, architects drew upon a 
variety of European fashions, old and new. 2 By the late thirties 
“Greek Revival” had become almost a national style of archi- 
tecture; and, despite serious competition by other styles, the 
“slavish imitation” of the Greek lived on as the basic style down 
to the Civil War. So much of this Greek Revival survives that a 
detailed description is hardly necessary. Whatever material 
was used, there was a conscious attempt to imitate stone. No 
effort seems to have been made to use native materials in such 
a way as to bring out their own true beauty; instead, brick was 
painted gray, plaster or stucco was marked off in patterns giv- 
ing the impression of stone, and if wood was used the boards 
were laid flush to give a smooth surface. The roofs afford a good 
illustration of the difficulties attendant upon using old forms 
under new conditions: following the Greek model the roofs were 
low-pitched, making them too flat for shingles, while metal roofs 
were both unsightly and too hot for comfort. Pretentious houses 
had porticoes or at least pilasters on the corners. Cast-iron 
ornaments, especially window grilles, balconies, and balustrades, 
were very popular. 

* Discussions of the architecture of the period are to be found in any history of Ameri- 
can architecture; see, e.g., Henry-Russell Hitchcock, The Architecture of H, R. Richard- 
son and His Times (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936); Fiske Kimball, 
American Architecture (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1928); and Thomas F. Tall- 
madge, The Story of Architecture in America (New York: W. W. Norton & C 5 o., Inc., 

a As I shall point out later, there were distinctive American modifications of the old 
forms to make them conform to American conditions. 


During the forties and fifties suburban and country houses 
largely followed the older plans, but in the cities there were new 
developments. Absolutely plain fronts, of smooth red brick 
with stone sills and lintels of white marble, were characteristic 
of Philadelphia. Around New York City, while Grecian man- 
sions had partially been succeeded by Italian and Gothic styles, 
in the city itself the scarcity and cost of building sites had led 
to an entirely changed architecture. Many of the new houses 
going up in the fifties were “colony houses,” with a front of 
dressed stone and marble, not over twenty feet wide. The first 
(“basement”) story had a hall and an office, the second story 
three connecting rooms with sliding doors; there were no halls to 
use up expensive space. 3 The French (“mansard” or “curb”) 
roof was occasionally to be seen, distinguished from any of its 
predecessors by the shortness and steepness of the first slope 
above the cornice and by the comparative invisibility of the 
flatter, upper slope. It provided an attic story hardly smaller 
than the main stories. But by the end of the fifties the French 
roof was only beginning to be familiar even in the East. 

In upstate New York many houses retained Georgian fea- 
tures, as dormer windows and red-brick construction. The high 
basement containing the kitchen, the long narrow hall, the par- 
lor and drawing-room, the dining-room behind — these re- 
mained in vogue for some years after the Civil War. But for the 
most part the Greek Revival style was followed all over the 
country, for large houses and small. Wherever towns and re- 
gions prospered in the thirties and forties the white porticoes 
were to be found, fronting or surrounding the houses. Along 
the Gulf it was particularly common to have the columns sur- 
rounding the house, with balconies between, suitable to the 
climate. In the states beyond the Alleghenies and the Ohio the 
imitation of the temple was even more nearly universal than on 
the seaboard. When the wave of emigration in the thirties 
swept out along the newly opened Erie Canal and across the 
Great Lakes, it brought with it the classic ideal, fitted to the 

3 See “New- York Daguerreo typed. Private Residences,” Putnam’s Magazine , III 

(1854), 233-48- 


white-painted farmhouse. 4 The same passion for unity of form 
brought, along with the rectangular temple, a more centralized 
scheme — square, circular, or octagonal. The most curious of 
these were the octagonal houses which, in the fifties, were scat- 
tered everywhere; many of them still survive in the northeastern 
states. 5 

It was inevitable that there should be a reaction on the part 
of architects and people of fashion against a style which had 
been so commonly accepted. But the designs offered as sub- 
stitutes were Italian villas, Swiss chalets, Indian pavilions, and 
Norman and Byzantine castles. Such exotic styles filled the 
pages of the books of the architects of the fifties; 6 and the 
wealthy, especially the newly rich, took them up. For a time 
Romanesque styles were popular, but the chief rival to the 
Greek Revival was a Gothic revival. None of these succeeded 
in catching the public fancy, and before the Civil War they had 
been almost completely driven out by the more popular Greek. 

Building construction. — The years prior to i860 had seen no 
revolution in building materials. Occasional attempts to popu- 
larize the use of concrete had met with little enthusiasm, and 
houses continued to be built of stone, brick, stucco, or wood. 

4 Toward the Civil War the pure style became corrupted by jigsaw bracketings, thin, 
square posts, and ornamented window and doorframes. 

5 See O. S. Fowler, A Home for All , or ... .the Octagonal Mode of Building (New 
York: Fowler & Wells, 2853). For more about Fowler — best known as a phrenologist — 
and his octagohal houses see Carl Carmer, The Hudson (New' York: Farrar & Rine- 
hart, 1939), chap. xxiv. 

6 See, e.g., Daniel T. Atwood, Atwood's Country and Suburban Houses (New York: 
Orange Judd Co., 1882, [first published, 1871]); M. Field, City Architecture (New York: 
D. Appleton & Co., 1854); Samuel Sloan, The Model Architect (Philadelphia: F. S. 
Jones & Co., 1854); an d City and Suburban Architecture (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott 
& Co., 1859); Calvert Vaux, Villas and Cottages (New York: Harper & Bros., 1857); 
Gervaise Wheeler, Rural Homes (New Orleans: Burnett & Bostwick, 1854); George E. 
Woodward and F. W. Wheeler, Woodward's Country Homes (New York: Office of “The 
Horticulturist,” 1865). 

Even Andrew Jackson Downing, in many respects ahead of his time as an architect 
and landscape gardener, could not free himself from this influence (see his Cottage 
Residences [4th ed.; New York: John Wiley & Son, 1865] and The Architecture of Country 
Houses [New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1851]). 

In almost any city east of the Mississippi a few houses built as early as the fifties 
are still standing. Some of these have a sort of impressiveness and grandeur, but many 
of them now seem only grotesque, 


Those who could afford it preferred stone; it was most common- 
ly used in the Northeast, where stone was plentiful. Brick houses 
were common both in the North and in the South. A small 
amount of building was done in the half-timbered style, but the 
climate was such as to make it less durable than in its European 
setting. The inexpensiveness of wood relative to other building 
materials made it much the most commonly used. The cost dif- 
ferential in its favor was increased with the development of the 
“balloon frame” in the late thirties or early forties. The balloon 
frame was simpler, cheaper, and easier to construct than the old 
heavy-timber, mortise-and-tenon frame, and by the middle 
fifties was being widely used, especially in the new, rapidly ex- 
panding cities like Chicago and San Francisco. On the middle 
western and southern frontiers wood was the natural building 

The term “basement” was usually applied to the ground 
floor; the floor beneath that, whether finished or unfinished, was 
the “cellar.” Especially in the Middle states the kitchen was 
usually placed on this lowest floor, with the dining-room above; 
but there was a trend toward moving the kitchen also to the 
main floor, usually in a separate wing. The cellar also included 
space for the furnace, if there was a furnace, and for fuel. Other 
accommodations were in keeping with the needs of the occu- 
pants — the cellar of a farmhouse might be divided into milk- 
rooms, storage-rooms for other goods, and a lumber-room, while 
that of a large city house might have rooms for food storage, a 
laundry-room, and perhaps servants' quarters. An unfinished 
cellar or a dead space under the main floor was likely to be a 
source of disagreeable odors, and the plans for new houses in- 
variably called for a ventilated space under the house;. Some 
houses, especially cottages, had a cellar under only a part of the 

Foundations were solidly built of brick, stone, or concrete. 
The construction of the walls depended not only upon the ideas 
of the builder but upon the climate. The best practice, in build- 
ing brick or stone houses was to build with a hollow wall, insur- 
ing protection against dampness and extremes of temperature. 



When there was no hollow wall, an inside (lath and plaster) wall 
was usually “furred off” from the outer (brick or stone) wall. 
Construction of wooden side walls differed considerably, accord- 
ing to the preferences of the builder. The most common was the 
familiar clapboard style, with the clapboards nailed to the frame 
horizontally and lapped over. Some preferred to use strong, 
rough boards, tongued and grooved, put on vertically, the joints 
covered with inch boards. Insulation under the clapboards 
might be tarpaper or felt; but in New England painstaking 
builders used a double weather boarding, and in the North gen- 
erally the space inside the wall was filled in with cheap brick. 
Two or three layers of plaster would be applied in a good house. 
Outside walls were commonly painted, but even as late as i860 
many were not. 

Even in the most luxurious mansions floors were almost never 
of hard wood. White pine was the most common flooring, but 
other easily worked woods were also used. Doors were swung on 
metal hinges and secured by metal locks turned by doorknobs; 
outside doors might be provided with Yale locks. Inside, sliding 
doors could be installed to make two communicating rooms 
usable as a single drawing-room. Window glass was being man- 
ufactured in larger quantities than ever before, and the panes 
were larger (usually from eight-by-ten to ten-by-fourteen). It 
was said of New York City that plate glass had become almost 
universal in houses of any pretensions; 7 and the new houses in 
the cities were being equipped with sliding sashes, sash cords, 
and pulleys. Still, homes had few windows if measured by pres- 
ent standards. This was probably due at least in part to the 
difficulty of heating houses with much window space, in part 
to the higher cost of building, and perhaps in part to the natural 
tendency to follow old habits of construction. Windows were 
frequently shuttered, and Venetian blinds were commonly ad- 
vertised. Whether or not fly screens could be had I am not quite 
sure; if they could, almost no one availed himself of the oppor- 

Various types of roofing materials were used, depending upon 

7 “New-York Daguerreotyped.” 


the style and slope of the roof and upon the means and prefer- 
ences of the builder. Shingles were regarded , as the best all- 
round material, if the pitch was not too low; pine shingles were 
ordinarily used, but when some other sort of shingles was cheap- 
er locally they were used instead. Slate roofs had advantages of 
beauty, cleanliness, and permanence, but they required care in 
installation and might prove disappointing unless the best qual- 
ity was used. For very low-pitched roofs leaded and painted tin 
and corrugated iron were best. Tile roofs were used only infre- 
quently. There was some experimentation with composition 

Plumbing and sanitary facilities . — The provision of a conven- 
ient and dependable water supply was a difficult problem, espe- 
cially outside the larger cities. Where there was no municipal 
water supply, dependence for water for drinking and cooking 
was upon wells; rain water for washing could be caught in cis- 
terns. Rain-water pipes led the water from the roof to the cis- 
tern, which might be underground or might be on the roof or 
inside the house above the ground floor to give pressure. There 
were obvious objections to a roof cistern, and an inside reser- 
voir, requiring constant refilling, was not much better. The best 
system seemed to be a small cistern placed just above the bath, 
supplied by a force pump from below. Such a reservoir or city 
water could supply the bath, water closet, sink, and washbasins, 
and gravity provided sufficient pressure for ordinary taps. Un- 
derground cisterns could be improved by the use of filters of 
gravel and charcoal or by patent filters. 

A small force pump could bring water from the cistern or 
from the well or spring through a lead pipe into the house. The 
sink, perhaps six inches deep and twenty by forty inches in area, 
would be located in the back porch, the kitchen, or even in the 
living-room. Some of them were of cast iron, but most were of 
wood, covered over with tin or sheet iron. Hot-water heaters 
could provide the sinks with running hot as well as cold water. 

, Outside the cities 8 water could be drained to an outside drain 
or to a cesspool perhaps eight feet deep, sloping inward toward 

8 For drainage in the cities see below, chap. viii. 

9 ° 


the bottom. The dirty, greasy water drained from the kitchen 
had a tendency to clog the cesspool, and some cesspools were 
provided with trapstones to minimize this difficulty. 

The water closets of the first half of the nineteenth century 
were mostly of the pan type, in which a lever tipped over a pan 
of water into the stool and a pipe drained it away into the cess- 
pool; but by i860 the hopper type was coming into more fre- 
quent use. Such water closets were necessarily limited to the 
cities which had a steady water supply; but even in the country 
makeshift water closets could be contrived — on one such type a 
pull on a cord opened a valve on an overhead reservoir, the re- 
leased water flowing down a pipe to flush the stool and pass on into 
the drain. When a regular water closet was too expensive or too 
difficult to install, a privy abutting on the house or connecting 
with it might be so constructed that, during rains, rain water 
from a drain pipe flowed into the privy vault and flushed it. 
Some light on the improvement yet to be made in water closets, 
as well as on the public attitude toward them, is shown by the 
report of the Chicago sewerage commissioners that the English 
had found water closets, except in “well regulated families,” a 
greater nuisance than the ordinary privy. 9 

The usual bathtub was an oak or pine box lined with copper, 
lead, or zinc. The more elaborate ones had paneled and molded 
fronts and were lined with copper. The cast-iron tub had been 
put on the market in the early fifties, but even these were in- 
cased in wood. There were also shower baths, although not in 
such common use as tubs. Both tub and shower baths could be 
connected to hot and cold running water. 

Heating and ventilation . — In the two or three decades just pre- 
ceding tbe Civil War some notable improvements had been 
made in stove construction : 

In 1836 James Atwater, of New York, made a stove with an illuminated 
case of cast iron and mica. It had inclosed flues, a check-flue, and a direct 

9 Chicago, Board of Sewerage Commissioners, Chicago Sewerage: Report of the Re- 
suits of Examination Made in Relation to Sewerage in Several European Cities } in the 
Winter of 1856-7, By the Chief Engineer of the Board of Sewerage Commissioners [E. S. 
Chesbrough] (Chicago^ 1858), p. 90. 


draft-damper. The Stanley heating-stove, with return and exit flues inclosed 
in the four corners, was perfected about this time. In 1845 Dr. Bushness 
invented a cylinder-stove with the inside lined with fire-clay, and having a 
pipe at each of the four corners, down which the heat returned to a hollow 
base, and thence went up through a pipe at the back. 

Gas-burners or surface burners next appeared in the order of time. These 
were both round and oval, and by perforated fire-pots, or perforated gas- 
rings at the top of the brick, the coal was more perfectly consumed than in 
any former device. They were mostly made of sheet iron; and generally the 
flues which returned the heat to the base were inclosed in the stove body. 
The most popular of these was the P. P. Stewart’s oval and round parlor- 
stove, first made about i860 

Anthracite coal was brought into use in America between 1820 and 1830, 
being afterward used to a limited extent for heating in open grates 

Jordan L. Mott, Sr., .... in 1833 constructed a self-feeding base-burner. 
In this stove he introduced the burning of the chestnut size of anthracite in 

thin layers, fed from a magazine In 1852 D. G. Littlefield, of Albany, 

constructed a self-feeding base-burning stove, which he improved on in 1856.*° 

Similar progress had been made in cooking stoves. P. P. 
Stewart had made an iron cooking stove in 1832 and had de- 
veloped a “summer and winter cooking stove” in 1836, the lat- 
ter having the firebox hung in the oven, so that the flame passed 
down the front, along the bottom, and up the back so as to dis- 
tribute the heat equally. 11 

P. P. Stewart’s first patent [cooking stove] was in 1838. The fire-box 
hung in the upper part of the oven, so that the heat from both sides and the 
bottom was thrown into it. The flame passed down in one sheet in front of the 
oven, then under and up the rear to the pipe collar on top of the stove. 
Stewart’s large-oven stove was made in 1850, and was at first a three-flue 
construction, but he soon afterward adopted a sheet flue under the oven, 
and three flues at the back. Samuel Pierce about this time invented the curved 
plate, now [1895] generally used at the front of the oven, which threw the ashes 
from the grate into an ash pit in the hearth. There have been no important 
changes in stove construction since that date 

In 1855 John Van, of Cincinnati, placed on the market the first modern 
wrought-iron range, intended to be used on Mississippi steamboats; and 
since that date this branch of the trade has increased very rapidly. 12 

10 Jeremiah Dwyer, “Stoves and Heating Apparatus,” One Hundred Years of Ameri- 
can Commerce , II, 358-60; see also James L. Bishop, II, 576-78. 

11 H. H. Manchester, The Evolution of Cooking and Heating (Troy, N.Y.: Fuller & 
Warren Co., 1917), passim. 

12 Dwyer, p. 360. In the late fifties such advertisements as this one (for P. P. Stew- 
art’s “improved large oven summer and winter cooking stove”) were being printed: 
“This stove is so contracted, and of such materials, that the heat may be held within the 



Gas cooking stoves were also in use during the fifties. 13 

Throughout this period of improvement, the production of 
stoves was steadily increasing, and in i860 about one million 
stoves were manufactured. 14 Cooking and heating stoves were 
by then in common use, some burning wood and others hard 
coal. Large houses were built with permanent ranges of iron and 
brick, with a range breast to carry off the fumes, warming ovens 
overhead, and with connections for supplying the house with 
running hot water. (There are no accurate statistics for coal 
production before the Civil War, but the total production for 
the United States in the year i860 was probably somewhere be- 
tween 14,000,000 and 15,000,000 short tons, or about half a ton 
per capita, 15 most of it Pennsylvania anthracite. What propor- 
tion of this was used industrially it is impossible to estimate.) 

Chimneys, whether for stove or for fireplace, were in the 
North customarily located in the interior of the house, so that 
the heat carried up the chimney would also help in heating the 
house; in the South they were more likely to be carried up out- 
side the house. 

stove, or thrown off to warm the apartment, at pleasure. The workmanship is so perfect 
that a wood fire is kept upon the grate over night, and a coal fire effected sensibly by 
moving the draft-damper the 32nd part of an inch. In its full dress bread can be baked 
in the most perfect manner after the fire is all removed from the stove , and culinary opera- 
tions carried on successfully with a single stick of wood at a time . The following, being 
the result of a trial recently made, and which can be duly certified, will show the ca- 
pacity of the stove: On the 2d June, 1857, sixty loaves of bread , weighing 2 lbs. each, 
were perfectly baked with but one fire , and with the use of only fifteen pounds of coal. 
The stove is set up on three months ' trial , and out of 10,000 of the new pattern already 
sold, less than twenty have been returned {Dinsmore's American Railroad and Steam 
Navigation Guide [New York, December, 1857]). 

13 Scientific American, III (i860), 56. 

** Dwyer (p. 361), giving estimates prepared by the National Stove Manufacturers 
Association. Twenty-five thousand stoves were manufactured in 1830, 100,000 in 1840, 
375,000 in 1850. 

13 E. L. Bogart {Economic History of the American People [2d ed.; New York: Long- 
mans, Green & Co., 1935], p. 537) estimates the United States production at 14,334,000 
short tons in i860 (269,684,00 0 in 1900; 600,444,000 in 1920; 537,000,000 in 1930). 
Contemporary estimates, of much the same magnitude, are to be found in the Scientific 
American , X (1854), 69; Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXIX (1858), 632; DeBow's 
Review , XXV (1858), 239, and XXVI (1859), 7 2 > and Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, 
XL (1859), 625. 


For perhaps a hundred years there had been experiments 
with central heating, and by 1 860 more or less practical systems 
had been devised — by the fifties all the metropolitan business 
directories were carrying numerous advertisements for furnaces. 
Furnaces were still in the luxury class, not only because of the 
expense of installation, but because (at least in the popular 
opinion) furnaces were inefficient in that they required a tre- 
mendous consumption of fuel if they were to affect the more dis- 
tant rooms. The furnace was installed in the “cellar,” with 
flues (sometimes pipes) leading to registers in the rooms above. 
Sometimes all floors were heated, frequently only the principal 
floor. Although they were not commonly applied to residence 
heating, both hot-water and steam-heating systems had been 
developed to the stage of practicability. Steam heating was 
fairly satisfactory for heating large buildings but was hard to 
control in small installations. It was generally agreed that hot- 
water heating was the most satisfactory, but it was not at all 
commonly adopted until much later. 

As architects' specifications show, these improvements had 
not displaced the fireplace from its importance, even in the 
homes of the wealthy; and, even if central heating was used, the 
chambers were usually heated by fireplace. 16 

Friction matches had by the fifties become the “cheapest 
article of retail trade,” 17 and from the forties boxes of matches are 
mentioned quite casually. In the United States the daily produc- 
tion in i860 was estimated at 3,6,000,000 matches, and matches 

16 David B. Reid, one of the foremost contemporary heating and ventilating engi- 
neers, mentioned some of the reasons, both sentimental and practical, for continuing 
to use fireplaces in his Ventilation in American Dwellings (New York: John Wiley, 
1864). J. E. Cabot wrote: “It will be noticed that this supposes the use of open fire- 
places. The open fireplace is not a necessary of life, but it is one of the first luxuries, and 
one that no man who can afford to eat meat every day can afford to dispense with. No 
furnace can supply the place of it; for, though the furnace is an indispensible auxiliary 
in severe cold, and though, well managed, it need not vitiate the air, yet, like all con- 
trivances for supplying heated air instead of heat, it has the unsurmountable defect 
of not warming the body directly, nor until all the surrounding air be warmed first, and 
thus stop the natural reaction and the brace and stimulus derived from it” (“House- 
building,” Atlantic Monthly , X [1862], 423-31). 

17 Albert S. Bolles, Industrial History of the United States (Norwich, Conn.: Henry 
Bill Pub. Co., 1881), p. 542. 



were sold at a penny a box, or 50 cents a gross, retail. 18 Only on 
the Frontier did people need to economize in their use. 

The installation of a new ventilating system for the British 
houses of Parliament had been followed by ventilating systems 
in other public buildings on both sides of the Atlantic; and, with 
this impetus, the technique of ventilation had made rapid strides 
in a comparatively short time. 19 Architects’ specifications called 
for ventilating flues, with registers installed in appropriate loca- 
tions near floor and ceiling. Where provision was not made for 
running the ventilating flues through the walls, ventilating 
tubes or boxes were made to run as inconspicuously as possible 
through closets and along partitions. Special attention was giv- 
en to ventilating bathrooms, when there was an inside water 
closet, and to bedrooms. (Tin ventilators were recommended 
for bedrooms as being as efficient as registers and cheaper.) 
Some buildings were provided with outside ventilators. 20 

Lighting . — Great improvements had been made in oil lamps 
since the perfection of the Argand lamp (1784) and the Carcel 
lamp (about 1800). The “moderator” lamp was invented in 
1836 and quickly superseded most of the earlier types. It had a 

18 Scientific American, III (i860), 402, citing Appleton's American Cyclopedia: Sala, 
II, 249; Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year 
1885, p. 422. 

19 Note the publication of such careful studies as those of David Boswell Reid (“The 

Progress of Architecture in Relation to Ventilation Annual Report of the Board 

of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for the Year Ending June 30, 1836 [Washington: 
Government Printing Office, 1857], PP* : 47~48; and Ventilation in American dwellings) 
and of Luther V. Bell (The Practical Methods of Ventilating Buildings [Boston: Dam- 
brell & Moore, 1848]; as well as such books as Robert Richie’s A Treatise on Ventilation 
(London: Lockwood & Co., 1862), Henry Ruttan’s Ventilation and Warming of Build- 
ings (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1862), and Charles Hood’s Practical Treatise on Warm- 
ing Buildings by Hot Water; on Ventilation , and the Various Methods of Distributing 
Artificial Heat (London: Whittaker & Co., 1844). 

20 Progress in ventilation should not be overemphasized. It was only with the 
seventies that experiment came to be substituted for guesswork; and even as late as 
the seventies it was still generally believed that air became bad because of the diminu- 
tion of oxygen and the increase in carbon dioxide — the “whole thought of ventilation 
was to prevent people from being poisoned by their own exhalation” (M. P. Ravenal 
[ed.], A Half-Century of Public Health [New York: American Public Health Assoc., 
1921], pp. 335-38). Ravenal quotes an American physician as writing in 1850: “Viti- 
ated air produces deformity, imbecility, and idiocy” and encourages “pusillanimity and 
cowardice, vice, and intemperance in the use of intoxicating drinks.” It “produces in- 
aptitude for study and, therefore, ignorance.” 


spiral spring which forced a piston against the oil reservoir, 
forcing the oil upward through a vertical tube to the burner. 
Meanwhile, lamps were being devised to burn coal oil, which 
needed no special feeding system. A fine metal tube carried the 
coal oil from the bottom of the reservoir to a rose burner, where 
it was heated by the flames and vaporized, escaping through a 
small orifice in the burner. In 1845 the camphene or burning- 
fluid lamp became popular. This had two round-wick tubes, to 
which small caps were attached, to be placed over the tops when 
the lamp was not in use. 21 

Until petroleum products were used for lighting, the depend- 
ence was on turpentine, sperm oil, train oil, lard oil, tallow, 
stearine, and other animal and vegetable products. Lard oil, 
used in the “solar lamp” after 1843, was probably the best il- 
luminant, but the smudgy, evil-smelling whale oil was much 
more widely used. In an attempt to conserve whale oil various 
compounds were used, the most popular being camphene, a mix- 
ture of turpentine and alcohol. 22 Before the war more than a 
million gallons a year of camphene were being distilled at Phila- 
delphia, half that at Cincinnati. 23 Camphene gave a fairly 
bright light; and the lamp could be cleaner and neater than 
those using whale oil, but it was dangerously explosive. About 
1850 it was discovered that a valuable oil could be procured 

21 For descriptions of the various types of oil lamps see M. Luckiesh, Artificial bight 
(New York: Century Co., 1920), pp. 53-54; Edward L. Youmans, The Hand-Book of 
Household Science (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1865 [first published, 1857], pp. 
1 12-13; S. O. Beeton (ed.), Beetoris Dictionary of Universal Information : Comprising a 
Complete Summary of the .... Sciences .... (London: S. O. Beeton, 1861— 65), p* 11 8. 

Lamp chimneys had been required from the first use of the Argand lamp, but ap- 
parently they were not manufactured in the United States until the fifties and even 
then, though manufactured on a rather large scale, were likely to be short lived ( One 
Hundred Years of American Commerce , II, 664) . 

22 More properly, what was burned was “burning fluid,” a mixture of camphene 
(turpentine redistilled) and highly rectified alcohol, in various proportions. Mixtures 
of camphene and rosin oil or of camphene and coal oil were also tried; but they re- 
quired an Argand burner and, even so, smoked and choked up the lamps ( Scientific 
American , XIII [1858], 133). 

23 Victor S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States (“Contributions to 
American Economic History from the Department of Economics and Sociology of the 
Carnegie Institution of Washington,” Vols. II and VI [New York: McGraw-Hill 
Book Co., 19291)5 I5 493 * 



from certain grades of coal, and that by fractional distillation 
this product could be separated into paraffin (which could be 
used in making candles) and an illuminating and lubricating oil; 
when oil wells were brought into production in 1859 and after, 
these processes were adapted to use petroleum. By i860 there 
were between fifty and sixty coal-oil refineries in the country. 24 

Lamps were made for the use of coal oil almost immediately, 
but their smoke and odor made the first ones unpopular. By 

1860 the “modern” burner and chimney were in use, making 
combustion more complete, clarifying the flame, and avoiding 
the smoke and smell; the lamp, according to Bolles, 25 was then 
practically perfected. But, while in the three years previous to 
March, 1861, only 193 patents had been granted for petroleum- 
burning lamps, from March 1, 1862, to December 30, 1863, some 
623 patents were granted. 26 The kerosene lamp, with its flat 
wick and glass chimney, seems to have caught on fairly rapid- 
ly. 27 Many, however, continued to burn camphene in i860 and 

1861 and did not change illuminants until the price of turpen- 
tine rose as a result of the Civil War. At that time the ordinary 
camphene lamp gave about twice as much light as a tallow can- 
dle, the kerosene lamp at least six times as much. Even as late 
as i860 whale-oil lamps were still being used, but they were ex- 
pensive and gave no better light than did tallow candles. After 

1862 the kerosene lamp had no competitors, though later im- 
provements increased its brilliancy from a candle-power of 6-20 
in 1858-68 to one of 60-80 in the ordinary parlor lamp of the 
nineties. 28 

The use of manufactured gas dates from the early part of the 
century; and by 1855 there were 297 companies selling manu- 
factured gas, serving a population of about 5,000,000 persons, 

34 Clark, II, Bolles, p. 774. 

as P. 776. 36 J. L. Bishop, II, 499. 

37 It was estimated that by December, 1859, some 22,750 gallons of coal oil were 
manufactured daily. Between 250,000 and 300,000 dozen coal-oil lamps had been sold , 
by manufacturers, of which about 1 50,000 were in use, the rest still in dealers’ hands 
{Scientific American , II [i860], 3; Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XLII [i860], 245). 

38 One Hundred Years of American Commerce , II, 664. 


through 22.7,665 private meters. 29 Of the 381 cities and towns 
supplied with gas at the beginning of the Civil War, 337 were in 
the North and 44 in the South. 30 In the forties and fifties gas 
lamps came to be used to some extent in the homes of the upper 
and middle classes in such cities as Boston, New York, Phila- 
delphia, and Baltimore, and architects were drawing up their 
plans to include facilities for gaslighting. In 1854 Bowditch 
brought out a regenerative lamp, and the principle was adopted 
in later lamps. 31 Until Edison patented his incandescent lamp 
twenty years later, only minor improvements in lighting were 


Furniture . — The mechanical saw was invented in 1814, the 
power circular saw in 1820, and the turning lathe and ripsaw 
about 1 838. 32 These made possible the furniture factories, 
which could produce large quantities of standardized pieces at 
low cost. It was only gradually, however, that the handicraft 
shops were superseded; during the fifties there were many of 
them, making to order high-grade pieces of furniture. Black 
walnut and light oak were both used in making furniture, but 
mahogany was more popular, its place threatened only by rose- 
wood. Maple and satinwood were also used in the making of ex- 
pensive furniture. Just before the sixties there was a fad for 
papier mache furniture, large and small, and for a few years 
these were quite popular. There was little use of veneer, for the 
contemporary techniques for handling it were not very satis- 

39 Emerson McMillin, “American Gas Interests/’ One Hundred Years of American 
Commerce , 1 , 295. During the first years of gas manufacture, soft coal was used almost 
exclusively, varied in some southern cities by rosin and pinewood. The New York Gas 
Company made the first gas from oil (1823) and later used rosin; in i860 it was dis- 
tilling English coals, and many other companies used English coals until the soft-coal 
mines of the United States were opened up (McMillin, pp. 297-300). 

30 Fite, p. 218. 31 Luckiesh, p. 97. 

32 Marjorie Bacon Ford, “Style Cycles in American Furniture, 1830-1930” (unpub- 
lished M.A. thesis. Department of Home Economics, University of Chicago, 1930), 
p. 24; George W. Gay, “The Furniture Trade,” One Hundred Years of American Com- 
merce , II, 628. 



The Greek Revival mansions were elaborately furnished and 
decorated; the new taste called for French rather than English 
styles, and Sheraton, Hepplewhite, and Adam gave way to Di- 
rectoire and Empire. Most of the pieces were massive and 
heavy, although Phyfe was producing furniture notable for its 
delicacy and elegance. 33 In middle-class homes the second quar- 
ter of the nineteenth century was the heydey of the Boston 
rocker, the Hitchcock chair, and the banjo clock. Windsors 
were still favorites, many ladder-backs were made, there were 
rockers in all styles, and (for the first time) there was the over- 
stuffed chair. Spool furniture, which had been the rage just 
after the invention of the lathe, had pretty much gone out of 
fashion, but painted furniture retained its popularity. By the 
fifties furniture had become characteristically Victorian — “a 
hodge-podge of plagiarism, though hot wholly ungainly despite 
legs and arms borrowed from Louis Quinze, oval backs sugges- 
tive of Adam and the riotous carvings that in their turn were 
elaborations of Chippendale’s more intricate tendencies) 34 

“American Victorian/’ which had apparently begun a little 
earlier, was at its best between 1845 an d *870. All but the 
cheapest Victorian furniture was handmade and finely done. 
With it in middle-class homes went glass chandeliers, flowered 
carpets and rugs, wax flowers, gold clocks under glass, bouquets 
of shells, wall pictures made of pheasants’ feathers, stuffed 
hummingbirds, and similar ornaments. The Victorian parlor 
contained a sofa or lounge having a back and one arm; some- 
times there was also a settee or ladies’ small sofa. There was a 
variety of chairs, some with embroidered seats and backs. Ev- 
ery parlor contained a table for the album and at least one 
marble-topped table. Usually there were several footstools of 
various kinds. Secretaries and small desks for ladies were popu- 
lar. Colors were brighter and draperies heavier and more elab- 
orately looped, fringed, and tasseled than before. All the 

33 The most easily accessible description of the interiors of these mansions is that 
of Tallmadge, pp. 103-4. 

34 Most of the information of furniture styles and materials in this and the following 
paragraphs comes from Miss Ford’s thesis; see also Ruth E. Finley, The Lady ofGodey’s 
(Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1931), pp. 142-44. 


wealthy had bookcases and cabinets in their parlors. The 
larger bookcases rested on the floor and had cornices at the 
top; the smaller ones consisted of three or four shelves hanging 
on the wall. 

The whatnot, seldom matching the other furniture, was es- 
sential. There was almost sure to be a piano — if there was no 
drawing-room there was a square piano with an elaborate case 
in the parlor. Mirrors were a popular form of decoration. The 
most fashionable was a huge pier glass inclosed in a heavily 
carved and gilded frame, rounded at the top and supplied with 
a small shelf and two legs at the botton. Those who could not 
afford such elegance had cheval glasses which swung back and 
forth in a frame. The parlor always had a fireplace. In the 
early Victorian period the fireplace had an arched opening with 
a marble mantel. Later the mantel became a wooden shelf, and 
still later tiers of shelves which formed a sort of built-in book- 
case. There was a work table for embroidering, and so universal 
was the popularity of embroidering that the work table was 
frequently to be found even in the drawing-room. Clocks had 
by i860 become small “shelf clocks” and were in keeping with 
the other furniture. Many homes had small clocks elaborately 
decorated and covered with a rounded glass case. The room 
was decorated with other fancy articles of various kinds. 

Victorian chairs were made for comfort and became more 
and more substantial; sofas followed chairs closely in design and 
materials. The greater part of the furniture was built upon the 
gracefully curving lines of Louis XV pieces. Upholstering might 
be plain or tufted; hair cloth was most commonly used, but 
there were also figured damask, brocade, plain and striped vel- 
vets, rep and flowered chintzes. Overstuffed furniture, which 
had been introduced just before 1850, had quickly become pop- 
ular. Ottomans, hassocks, and footstools were mostly uphol- 
stery, following in their lines the lines of the chairs and sofas. 
Tables were of various designs, some having four legs and others 
being pedestals. 

The design of cheapter furniture offers one more illustration 
of imitation as a substitute for taste. American designers could 



have originated styles especially adapted to machine produc- 
tion — simple, sturdy, and comfortable. Instead, until about 
1870, factory furniture continued to follow Victorian models. 
It was heavier and lacking in the finer features of the better 
furniture; and what carving there was, was coarser. 35 Elaborate 
whatnots were commonly found even in comparatively plain 
homes, and in the Middle West the ugly, exaggerated “Sleepy 
Hollow” rocker was popular. A number of furniture factories 
were started in the West, which used native timber; but all 
artistic furniture was purchased in the East. 

Both kitchen and sitting-room chairs were like those now 
called kitchen chairs. The sitting-room also had a couple of 
rocking chairs with cushions. The family table was rectangular, 
usually with drop leaves. The kitchen was equipped with cup- 
boards and shelves, but there was as yet no kitchen cabinet. In the 
bedroom the four-poster had been superseded by the mahogany- 
veneer, low-post bedstead and the French bedstead, and these 
in turn, during the fifties, were giving way to plain black-walnut 
bedsteads. 36 'JThere were iron bedsteads, too; but the attractive 
ones cost as much as wood, and the cheaper ones were thought 
good enough only for the less well-to-do or for servants’ rooms. 
Spring beds were widely advertised. 

Other household furnishings . — Up to 1850 only hand carpet 
looms were in use, and the production of carpetings was conse- 
quently very limited. In spite of transportation costs and heavy 
duties, imports of carpets from England and Scotland contin- 
ued; and even after the use of power looms in the United States 
there was a tendency on the part of those who could afford them 
to prefer imported carpetings. But there was a rapid change in 
the domestic production of carpetings following Bigelow’s in- 
grain loom and, in 1848, his power loom for weaving Brussels 
and tapestry products. These developments increased the prod- 

35 Some of the furniture factories did change their styles, between 1850 and i860, 
to Renaissance pieces, which could be made more attractively by machines (Gay, p. 

36 Frances Clary Morse, Furniture of the Olden Time (New York: Macmillan Co., 
1924), p. 83. 


uct of the ingrain loom from 8 to 25 square yards a day, and 
the product of the Brussels loom from 7 to 25 yards. 37 By 1849 
the cost of weaving Brussels carpets had been reduced from 30 
cents a yard to 4 cents. 38 In the census year i860 more than 
13,000,000 yards of carpeting were produced, with an average 
value of 59 cents a yard. 39 Between 1850 and 1875 the houses 
of the wealthy came to be fully carpeted — the floors were cov- 
ered to the walls and the carpets firmly nailed down — and even 
among the poor and rural classes rugs of carpeting dotted the 
floors of the more important rooms. 40 The wealthy also used 
small rugs in addition to carpets; but there were few if any large 
rugs in the modern sense, as the looms could not then weave 
wide strips and oriental rugs were apparently rare. Carpet 
sweepers were on the market and widely advertised. 

Beds, and especially windows, were elaborately and frequent- 
ly expensively draped. Plain worsteds, cotton damasks, and 
fine satins were used, and the fittings were likely to be highly 
ornate. Since Colonial days there had been some domestic man- 
ufacturing of wallpaper, but in the earlier times the paper had 
been printed by hand from blocks. After 1820 the business grew 
rapidly. The Fourdrinier machine made it possible to produce 
paper in rolls, and by the fifties rolls of paper could be printed 
by cylinder machines in six colors. Hand-printing was quickly 

37 Shephard Knapp, “American Carpets/’ One Hundred Years of American Com- 
merce, II, 486. Bigelow-Hartford Carpet Co., A Century of Carpet and Rug Making in 
America (New York: Bigelow-Hartford Carpet Co., 1925). For a more extended treat- 
ment of the technical advance, see Arthur H. Cole and Harold F. Williamson, The 
American Carpet Manufacture (“Harvard Economics Studies,” Vol. LXX [Cambridge, 
1941]), chap. iv. 

38 Eighth Census: Manufactures , p. lvii. 

3 ® Ibid., p. li. By 1904 (the peak year) this had risen to 82,671,000 yards. In 1859 
the per capita production of domestic wool carpetings was 0.43 yards, with a value 
of $0.26; the peak in per capita production was reached in 1889 at 1.08 yards (with a 
value of fo.75). Imports failed to rise above 0.01 yards (Cole and Williamson, pp. 95- 
96). These figures fail to include family-made carpetings, of which the volume was 
almost certainly considerable, and rag rugs, straw mattings, and other floor coverings. 

4 ° Cole and Williamson, p. 81. The great bulk of the carpeting was, by modern 
standards, of a very low grade, from five-sixths to nine- tenths of the domestic produc- 
tion being of the ingrain type. As Cole and Williamson point out, the floors were soft 
wood and poorly constructed; the object of the carpet was to conceal their defects. 



superseded. By i860 the only wallpapers printed by hand were 
produced for the few who could afford to pay for fine workman- 
ship and artistic design; it was reported that in originality of 
design and quality of product the machine-printed papers ri- 
valed the best English and French papers. 41 

The parlor organ, once a conspicuous feature of the American 
home, had by i860 yielded first place to the piano: only 12,643 
melodeons were produced in the census year i860 as compared 
with 21,797 pianos. 42 This was due, at least in part, to American 
improvements in pianos and piano manufacture. By 1837 
Chickering had perfected the application of the full iron frame 
to square pianos, and Steinway’s overstrung system, first used 
in 1855, soon became standard. After 1855 a few grand pianos 
were made, but most of the pianos were square, frequently with 
elaborate cases. 43 

The “short-shelf” clock had been invented early in the cen- 
tury; but the turning-point in the clock industry really came 
with the use of interchangeable machine-made wheels of rolled 
brass, beginning in 1837. By i860 as good an eight-day clock 
could be obtained for $ 3.00 or $4.00 as would have sold for 
$20.00 before 1837, and a one-day clock could be sold at a fair 
profit for 75 cents. The annual output of the five largest com- 
panies was about half a million clocks. 44 The success of these 
clocks interfered little with the continued sale of the more dec- 
orative varieties such as elaborate mantel clocks and banjo 

Up to 1850 American potteries made no dinnerware except 
the cheapest kind of cream-colored crockery. During the fifties 
a number of potters started making yellow and Rockingham 

* x Eighth Census : Manufactures, pp. cxxix-cxxxi; J. L. Bishop, III, 72-73, 179-82, 

■ 42 Eighth Census: Manufactures , p. clxvi. 

43 William Steinway, “American Musical Instruments,” One Hundred Years of Amer- 
ican Commerce , II, 510-11. 

4i * The best source of information on the eajly history of the clock industry is Chaun- 
cey Jerome, History of the American Clock Business for the Past Sixty Years (New 
Haven: F. C. Dayton, Jr., i860); see also Willis I. Milham, Time and Timekeepers 
(New York: Macmillan Co., 1923), chap. xx. 


ware, but the making of white tableware had barely commenced. 
Most of the tableware was plain white and was defective, poorly 
decorated, and clumsy in design and shape; only the common 
earthenware was good. The great bulk of tableware was im- 
ported, most of it from England. It took the high tariff of 1861 
and the later premium on gold to establish the domestic in- 
dustry. 45 

Enoch Robinson in 1827 invented a machine for making 
pressed glassware, which made it possible to make pleasing and 
suitable glassware even cheaper than Staffordshire wares. By 
1845 most of the upper- and middle-class homes were using 
pressed glass, and by x 8 60 a considerable number of colors were 
available in it. Up to the discovery in 1864 of a successful for- 
mula for making lime glass, tableware was made of flint or lead 
glass, better than lime glass but three or four times as expen- 
sive. By i860 the glass companies were making every conceiv- 
able variety of glassware, but there is nothing to show that the 
beautiful pieces now prized by collectors were ever very gen- 
erally in use by the common people. 46 

It was not until about 1840 that the possibilities in electro- 
plating ordinary silverware and the like were realized. After 
that date new processes were developed and silver-plating was 
rapidly introduced from Philadelphia into New England. 47 The 
industry seems to have been flourishing by 1849, though it re- 
quired skilled labor and remained small scale in its organiza- 
tion. 48 By the sixties, if not earlier, Reed and Barton had large 
factories and showrooms at Taunton, Massachusetts, and were 
producing Brittania and silver-plated wares and Albata spoons 

45 John Moses, “American Potteries,” One Hundred Years of American Commerce , 
I, 289-92; Herman John Stratton, “Factors in the Development of the American Pot- 
tery Industry” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Economics, University 
of Chicago, 1929), pp. 5-6, 10, 27, 59, 301, and 310. 

46 Rhea Mansfield Knittle, Early American Glass (New York: Century Co., 1927), 
pp. 264-67; Lura Woodside Watkins, Cambridge Glass , 1818 to 1888 (Boston: Marshall 
Jones Co., 1930). There is a list of manufactures in N. Hudson Moore, Old Glass: Euro- 
pean and American (New York; Tudor Pub. Co., 1935), pp. 369-82. 

47 Bolles, p. 535; Clark, I, 257; Freedley, Philadelphia (1867 ed.), p. 415. 

48 Philip L. Sniffin, A Century of Silver Smithing (Taunton, Mass.: Reed & Barton, 
1924), PP* 26-27. 


and forks. They employed about five hundred men. 49 A num- 
ber of manufacturers were turning out tea sets, plate service, 
and other electroplated ware in the fifties. Godey’s Lady’s Book 
offered to supply its readers with patent india-rubber-handled 
table knives at $5.50 a dozen, table forks at $4.50, dessert knives 
at $5.00, and dessert forks at $4.25; a steel carving set was 
^3.25; a salad spoon and fork, $i.$o. S0 Pewter-making had 
dwindled into insignificance. 

Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book listed as the requisites of any 
well-equipped kitchen the range and its equipment, copper 
saucepans with covers, a flat-bottomed soup pot, an upright 
gridiron, sheet-iron bread pans, a griddle, a “tin kitchen,” a 
double boiler, a coffee pot, a bread board and knife, tin pans, 
stone jars for preserves and the like, storage boxes for various 
sorts of foodstuffs, a meat saw and cleaver, sieves, a mortar, 
and a rolling pin. 51 The double boiler was a comparatively re- 
cent innovation, apparently dating from not earlier than the 
forties. Another was the rotary egg beater — previously cream 
had to be whipped and eggs beaten with a three-tined fork. 
There were various other ingenious kitchen conveniences, such 
as apple-paring machines and sheers. Corn brooms were being 
turned out by the millions, selling at from $1.00 to $3. 00 a dozen 
wholesale, or 25 cents or so each retail. 

Houses then and now . — Such were the houses that could be 
built in i860. The years have shown how well constructed, how 
durable, they were. We can criticize them for running too much 
to bell towers, “columnettes,” and other oddities of design and 
for the overelaborateness of their Victorian interiors, but there 
is little fault to find with their construction. They could be fur- 
nace heated, and their bathrooms could be complete with hot 
and cold running water, tub and shower baths, and water 
closets. The furniture was well made, the floor coverings serv- 
iceable, and the wallpaper decorative. Really good china, glass- 
ware, and silver were too expensive for any except the very 

« J. L. Bishop, III, 330. 

50 Godey’s Lady’s Book 3 LVIII (1859), 471. SI P. 21 9, 


well-to-do, but probably no one regarded this as a very impor- 
tant matter. 

What have the eighty years since that time contributed 
toward making houses better places to live in? Houses built 
in the twentieth century show little superiority in durabil- 
ity: indeed, one may question whether they are as well built. 
We have a wider range of building materials, but in the main 
(with the possible exception of roofing) continue to use the 
same 'old reliables. Exterior designs have changed, though not 
always in the direction of conspicuous improvement; and the 
changes in furniture have not all been such as to make the in- 
teriors more pleasing. The only fundamental change in housing 
is the result of a changed sense of values: we now prefer small 
rooms or even apartments, while in i860 people were willing 
to sacrifice other enjoyments in order to have big, roomy houses. 
The other changes have been mostly additions to the number 
of “conveniences”— electric lighting, automatic feeders and 
controls for furnaces, really dependable plumbing, and the long 
list of labor-saving devices. Perhaps, too, our houses have their 
rooms and closets more conveniently arranged, and certainly 
they have more window space. 

Much though these improvements add to our ease and com- 
fort, it seems to me that the real progress in housing since i860 
has been not so much the raising of the level of consumption of 
the well-to-do as making it possible for a greatly increased pro- 
portion of the population to approach that level. To appreciate 
this we have to understand what housing was actually like in 
i860 — not what was available to the rich but what was actually 
being used by all classes of society. 




Sectional differences in housing . — Anyone who reads much of 
what was being written during this period will receive the im- 
pression that the contrasts between the different levels of con- 
sumption were much greater for housing than for food. In the 
main this impression is probably a correct one: the United 
States was still predominantly agricultural, and insufficiencies 
of food can hardly have been as great as insufficiencies of in- 
dustrial products. The contrast seems especially vivid in hous- 
ing, however, because no one can be altogether unaware of what 
kind of houses other people live in, however little knowledge he 
may have of — or interest in — what goes on within those houses. 
Certainly, in i860 the contrasts were very great — not only con- 
trasts between the “possibilities” and the “actualities” or be- 
tween the houses of the rich and those of the poor but contrasts 
also between the houses of the East and those of the Frontier, 
even between those of the North and those of the South. It is 
somewhat startling to read in a recent history: 

Four fifths of the people of the United States of i860 lived in the country, 
and it is perhaps fair to say that half of these dwelt in log houses of one or 
two rooms. Comforts such as most of us enjoy daily were as good as unknown. 
Even in the cities baths were exceedingly rare, while in the country the very 

decencies of life were neglected But in the cities and towns there was, of 

course, a better life. Frame houses, two stories high, painted white and 
adorned with green window blinds, were everywhere in good form, except 
where men were able to build brick or stone mansions or maintain the estab- 
lishments of wealthy ancestors. In the South it was still the custom to guard 
the entrances to great plantation houses with chiseled lions or crouching 
greyhounds; in the East more attention was paid to flowers and shrubbery. 
.... Liveries and silver plate persisted mainly in the very exclusive circles of 
Philadelphia and New York, in Washington, and on the great plantations. 1 

1 Dodd, Expansion and Conflict , p. 208. If Dodd's statement that half the rural pop- 
ulation lived in log houses is true — and I am inclined to think it is somewhat exag- 




In the East the presence of native stone made possible the 
construction of many more stone houses than elsewhere. The 
crowded cities led to the growth of tenement houses, while the 
wealthy built luxurious city homes and suburban “villas.” In 
the South the mildness of the climate made it unnecessary to 
build as ruggedly as in the North, and the conservatism of the 
planters (and perhaps their lack of cash resources) prevented 
any experimentation with new styles. The habitations of slaves 
and “poor whites” differed markedly from the workers’ homes 
in the North. On the Frontier the homes depended upon the 
length of time the community had been settled and upon the 
building materials locally available. The first homes in a 
wooded part of the country were likely to be log cabins, giving 
place to frame houses; on the treeless plains the pioneers lived 
first in dugouts or sod houses. 

The homes of the well-to-do . — In the large eastern cities the 
homes of the “commercial aristocracy” were frequently built 
of brick or stone, but most of them were frame dwellings . 2 The 
period was marked by the advent of the crowded brownstone 
front, the houses abutting one another, and with iron railings In 
front. These were three stories high, with English basement. 
(In Philadelphia marble-trimmed fronts of brick or brownstone 
were much more common than the plain brownstone of New 
York.) Such houses were constructed with an eye to saving 
space and made efficient use of the limited room available . 3 

gerated — sectional differences must be taken into account. That a large proportion of 
the inhabitants of the lower South did so live is certainly true, and probably it is only 
slightly less so of much of the West and even as far east as Ohio. But only a very small 
percentage of the population of New England and the North Atlantic states lived in 
log houses (cf. Table i> p. 120, for New York State). 

2 I cannot be altogether certain on this point. It has been suggested that the fire 
ordinances of the time — unless enforced only in limited areas of the city — would have 
led to more building in brick and stone. On the other hand, the figures for Providence 
(see p. 108) -indicate that relatively few houses were of brick or stone; and it seems to 
be true that in Chicago as late as 1890 the houses were mostly of frame construction. 

3 See p. 85 above. As yet the only originality displayed in American architecture 
was in response to local economic or climatic conditions: the narrow, space-saving 
house of the big city; the connected buildings of the New England farm and the de- 
tached buildings of the Southern plantation; the long hallway running all the way 
through southern houses and the verandas around them; and perhaps the omission of 
the basement in New Orleans. 



Rooms in these, as in other homes, were higher and more spa- 
cious than in the houses built today. H. Reid, like many visi- 
tors from abroad, was favorably impressed: 

In the United States [the houses and shop buildings] are so tasteful and 
elegant, and of such superior material, that it is quite a treat to walk along the 
streets, which have a highly rich, lively, and variegated appearance, from 
the variety of stone of which the houses are built, and the variety of beautiful 
architectural designs which they exhibit. Chestnut and Walnut streets, in 
Philadelphia; in New York, Broadway, and the streets which run from the 
lower part of it to the water — Fifth Avenue, and the streets in the vicinity; 
in Boston, Washington, Hanover, Franklin, and State streets, are perfectly 
magnificent. I have seen nothing worthy of being compared with them on this 
side of the Atlantic. The houses or stores are lofty, built of rich red or fawn 
colored freestone, granite, marble, iron, or brick, — and always with some 
architectural decoration that pleases the eye, and interests and excites the 
taste of the observer 

Chestnut Street in Philadelphia is certainly one of the prettiest streets I 
have ever seen. There is scarcely a plain, common-looking building in its 

whole length It is not only in the leading streets, public buildings, and 

large stores, that this taste for neatness and elegance is manifested in the 
architecture of Philadelphia; it is seen in the smaller streets and humbler 
houses in the suburbs; they are of brick, but with marble steps at the door, 
and a marble casement, which relieve the monotony of the flat surface, and 
give a lively, tasteful aspect to the street. The Quaker City is truly un-quaker- 
like, but looks, more almost than any city I have seen, bright, cheerful, and 
elegant. But let the visitor avoid the suburbs on a Saturday morning; then 
Philadelphia is cleansing itself. This it does with characteristic American 
energy, and there is such scrubbing, washing, and splashing at the door of 
every house, that it is best to be out of the way. 4 

While it was the dwellings of brick and stone that attracted 
attention, even in New England cities by far the greater number 
of houses were wood. This is shown by Dr. E. M. Snow’s census 
of Providence in 1855: of 5,740 houses, 5,544 were wood, 169 
brick, and 27 stone. 5 Although Boston had many granite 
houses (the quarries of near-by Quincy supplied the material), 
there were more of brick than of granite. 6 Reid found even the 

4 Sketches in North America (London: Longman, Green, Longman, & Roberts, 1861), 
pp. 22 3-25. 

5 Cited in Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXIV (1856), 670. 

6 Phillippo, p. 257. Again the comments of travelers from abroad are so revealing 
that I cannot forebear further quotation. Edward Dicey wrote: “Out of the city itself 
the houses, with few exceptions, are built of wood. Stone is more plentiful there than 
timber; in fact the whole State of Massachusetts is little more than a great granite 
boulder covered over with a thin layer of scanty soil. Wood, however, is preferred for 



smaller towns of New England clean, tasteful, and cheerful in 
aspect. The suburban villages near such towns as Fall River 
and New Haven were “singularly pleasant .” 7 

The houses of the wealthy in New York were substantially 
built of brick or brown sandstone or of brick faced with marble. 
Some critics thought them so uniform as to be depressing. 
There was considerable uniformity in their interior construc- 
tion, too: the drawing-room, library, and dining-room were on 
the principal floor, the bedrooms and nursery upstairs . 8 In the 
early fifties there were three or four thousand of these brown- 
stone houses in New York , 9 and their steady march up Fifth 
Avenue was a feature of the fifties. It seemed to Chambers that 
north of the busy part of the city all the buildings were built 
entirely of brown sandstone, richly decorated, with plate-glass 
windows, silvered door handles, silver plates at the doors, and 
bell pulls. The interiors and furnishings were “superb .” 10 Wil- 
liam Howard Russell described these Fifth Avenue houses: 

Some of the houses are handsome, but the greater number have a com- 
pressed, squeezed-up aspect, which arises from the compulsory narrowness of 
frontage in proportion to the height of the building, and all of them are bright 
and new, as if they were just finished to order, — a most astonishing'proof of 
the rapid development of the city. As the hall door is made an important 
feature of the residence, the front parlour is generally a narrow, lanky apart- 
ment, struggling for existence between the hall and the partition of the next 

house-building, partly because a wooden house requires less labour in construction, 
and labour is expensive and far from plentiful, partly because wooden dwellings dry- 
more quickly, and are more habitable than stone ones” (Six Months in the Federal States 
[London: Macmillan & Co., 1863], II, 177). 

7 Reid, p. 227; cf. Downing’s comment: “New Haven abounds with tasteful resi- 
dences. ‘Hillhouse Avenue,’ in particular, is remarkable for a neat display of Tuscan 
or Italian Suburban Villas” ( Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening 
[6th ed.; New York: A. O. Moore & Co., 1859], p. 336 n.). The preoccupation with 
picturesque European styles of architecture is again to be noted. 

8 Phillippo, p. 271; Pulszky, I, 70-71 ; Sala, I, 78-79. Cf. also the comments of 
Dicey ( 1 , 12), who was impressed by the display of wealth but thought the houses showed 
little taste. 

* If Isabella Bird Bishop (pp. 355-57) is to be believed. Her description of the man- 
sions of the very wealthy (pp. 3 58-60) is of some interest. 

10 Chambers, p. 178. Edith Wharton, in “A Little Girl’s New York” (Harper's Mag- 
azine , CLXXVI [1938], 356-64), has described the brownstone houses as they were in 
the late seventies, and her description applies, in the main, to the fifties as well. 



house. The outer door, which is always provided with fine carved panels and 
mouldings, is of some rich varnished wood, and looks much better than our 
painted doors. It is generously thrown open so as to show an inner door with 
curtains and plate glass. The windows, which are double on account of the 
climate, are frequently of plate glass also. Some of the doors are on the same 
level as the street, with a basement story beneath; others are approached by 
flights of steps, the basement for servants having the entrance below the steps, 
and this, I believe, is the old Dutch fashion, and the name of “stoop” is 
still retained for it. 11 

Visitors all carried away from Philadelphia the impression of 
a city whose houses were so uniform as to be monotonous. 12 
All seemed to be of red brick, faced with marble, with white 
shutters at the plate-glass windows, some with green Venetian 
blinds over the upper-story windows. Almost all of them had 
the white-marble doorsteps and silver knockers — “prim, dull, 
and respectable.” 

There was no uniformity about the residences in Chicago, 
then in the transition from village to metropolis and having a 
little the character of each. 13 Sophisticated visitors found little 
pleasing in it. But there were a “few pleasant residences on 
Michigan Avenue fronting the encroaching lake, and on Wabash 
Avenue”; 14 and in 1854 Robert Russell had noted handsome 
sandstone villas in the lake-shore suburbs. 1 ? A local statistical 
summary had an imposing report on the expensive houses of 

11 Pp. 12-13; cf. Baxter, p. 28. 

12 Chambers, p. 306; Mackay, pp. 72-74; Amelia Murray, p. 160; Phillippo, p. 285; 
Tallack, p. 85. 

Along Michigan and Wabash Avenues wealthy Chicagoans were, in the fifties, 
building new and expensive residences; other were moving farther into the South Divi- 
sion, and a few were moving into the northern part of the city. Alongside these sections 
were workmen's cottages, uninteresting in design and uniform in appearance, with 
vegetable gardens and barns. Adjacent to these were the insanitary, ramshackle houses 
of the poor: in the mid-fifties there were cabins in the West Division, some of them 
only ten feet by sixteen, sheltering families with five or more children, a dog, a cat, 
pigs, chickens, and a cow (Pierce, II, 476). 

Charles Dudley Warner, Studies in the South and West with Comments on Canada 
(Hartford: American Pub. Co., 1905), pp. 194-95. 

x « P. 108. C. M. Kirkland also wrote that the vicinity was all dotted with villa- 
residences, many of the local light-colored stone (“Illinois in Springtime: With a Look 
at Chicago,” Atlantic Monthly , II [1858], 487). 



brick, marble, and frame construction going up. 16 There were 
luxurious houses in the other cities and towns of the West, too. 
James Caird found many handsome private residences in Mil- 
waukee, some of them of white marble; 17 and Dana called it 
“finely built,” considering how young a city it was, because of 
the fine quality of clay it had for brickmaking. 18 Even in Madi- 
son there were clean, white houses, some Gothic, some Grecian. 19 
And “you never see in England a High-street like the Main 
street of Racine, but each single house might stand in an Eng- 
lish street without attracting especial attention.” 20 St. Louis 
was older, and there had been a longer time for wealth to ac- 
cumulate. Of it Dicey wrote: 

You may ride for miles and miles in the suburbs, through rows of handsome 
private dwelling-houses, the occupiers of which in England (where, on the 
whole, living is cheaper than in America) could not possess less than 500 £ to 
1,000 £ a year. All the private houses are detached, two stories high, and 
built of Dutch-looking brick. The door stands in the middle of the house, 
not on one side, and the windows are high, narrow, and numerous, as in our 
own houses of the ante-Pi tt era. In all Western cities, the streets are so broad, 
and the houses so frequently detached, standing in their own plots of ground, 
that a Western city of one hundred thousand inhabitants covers perhaps three 
times the space it would in Europe. There may be poverty at St. Louis, but 
there is no poor, densely-populated quarter. 21 

The newer parts of St. Louis were being built up, largely in 
brick, but with some use of local limestone. Many of its resi- 
dences were “costly and beautiful/' 22 

Whether it was altogether because of lack of wealth or 
whether lack of “progressiveness” had something to do with it, 
there is no question that few houses had such conveniences as 
hot and cold running water, water closets, and baths. Boston, 
with a population of 177,840 in i860, had only 31,098 sinks, 
3,910 bathtubs, and 9,864 water closets (of which about half 

16 Fifth Annual Review of the Commerce , Manufactures , and the Public and Private 
Improvements of Chicago (Chicago: D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857), PP* IO ~ I 5 * 

Prairie Farming in America (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1859), p. 98. 

18 C. W. Dana, The Great West (Boston: Wentworth & Co., 1857), p. 140. 

« Phillippo, p. 127. 31 Ibid., 98-99. 

30 Dicey, II, 126. 23 Dana, p. 174. 

1 12 


were of the unsatisfactory pan type); there were 10,141 lava- 
tories, but only 13 shower baths. It was estimated that Charles- 
town, Massachusetts, with a population of over 25,000, had 
only 300 tubs and water closets. New York City, with a popu- 
lation of 629,904 in 1855, had in 1856 only 1,361 baths and 
10,384 water closets. (These .figures provide a useful check on 
the reckless statements of contemporaries: Batcheler wrote 
that the businessmen of the city all had hot and cold baths, as 
well as dumbwaiters and speaking-tubes) . Albany, whose popu- 
lation in i860 was 62,367, had in 1859 only 19 private baths and 
160 water closets. Philadelphia had the reputation among trav- 
elers of being the most cleanly of American cities. As early as 
1849 there were 3,521 baths in what was then the city proper 
(not including the suburbs incorporated in the city in 1854), 
and in the newer houses of the well-to-do baths were coming to 
be standard equipment. 23 The average Chicagoan had not even 
lake water, but still used the pump in the back yard. The editor 
of the Chicago Tribune in 1861 called attention to the fact that 
many lived in houses “entirely innocent of plumbers’ work” and 

a 3 Most of these figures come from reports of city water departments, where they 
appear because baths and water closets were charged for in addition to the normal 
water rates — itself a suggestive fact. (There is, of course, at least a possibility that there 
were baths and water closets not connected with the city water systems.) Boston, 
Cochi tuate Water Board, Annual Report for the Year i860 (Boston: Rand & Avery, 
1861), p. 29; George R. Baldwin and Charles L. Stevenson, Report on Supplying the City 
of Charlestown with Pure Water (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., i860), p. 62; New York 
City, Croton Aqueduct Department, Annual Report January 5 >1857 (New York: Baker, 
1857), pp. 106-7; Albany Department of Public Works, Bureau of Water, Annual Re- 
port for the Year i8j8 (Albany: Weed, Parsons & Co., 1859), pp. 39-40. The Phila- 
delphia figure is from the American Medical Association’s Committee on Public Hy- 
giene, First Report , with an Appendix Containing Sketches of the Sanitary Condition of 
the Cities of Concord , Portland , New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Lowell, Baltimore, 
Charleston, New Orleans, Louisville, and Cincinnati (extract from the Transactions of the 
American Medical Association [Philadelphia: T. K. and P. G. Collins, 1849]), PP- 478- 
79. I have been unable to find any figure for a year closer to i860. Population figures 
are from the Eighth Census except that for New York City, which is from the Census of 
the State of New York for the Year i8jy, p. 8. Batcheler’s comment is on p. 63 of his 

The belief that people in that period were actually afraid to bathe frequently has 
occasionally been challenged, but I think there is some truth in it. Godey's Lady's Book 
(LX [May, i860], 464) summarized with the approval an article from Hall's Journal of 
Health: bathing in the evening was discouraged, but to bathe in the morning, briefly, 
and not oftener than once a week, was all right. 


1 13 

that there were many for whom “no plated faucets” suggested 
“‘hot’ and "cold 5 at will” 2 * 

To what extent coal was used for heating it is impossible to 
say. As we have seen, the total consumption of coal in the 
country as a whole was only about half a ton a year per capita 
for both home and industrial use; I think we must be rather 
cautious in accepting contemporary statements that it was com- 
monly used. 25 But Pairpont’s comment that New York’s at- 
mosphere was clear because anthracite was generally used 26 and 
George Derby’s statement in 1868 that ninety-nine out of a 
hundred Boston dwellings were warmed in whole or in part by 
anthracite burned in iron stoves 27 must, even allowing for exag- 
geration, indicate that at least among people of means in those 
cities heating with coal was an accepted thing. It was reported, 
as early as 1849, that in Cincinnati the wealthy burned stone 
coal in grates or used cellar furnaces. 28 A large number of the 
new houses were being designed for furnace heating; and Euro- 
pean travelers frequently complained of the stuffiness of Ameri- 
can homes, overheated with furnaces and poorly ventilated. 29 

24 Pierce, II, 333. 

25 Retail coal prices ranged from about $1.50 a ton in mining regions to J5.00 or 
$6. 00 in New England; cord wood might sell at from $1.00 up to more than $6.00 
a cord, depending upon the region (Appen. D, Tables 37-38). Coal for domestic use 
sold for $5.50 a ton in Boston, January 1, i860 (. Boston Evening Transcript) . Wyoming 
Valley coal sold for $5.00 a ton in New York (New York Daily Tribune, J anuary 1 6, i860). 
Wood sold for $6.50 a cord and coal for $6.50 a ton on the Illinois prairies (Harper's 
Weekly , I [January 31, 1857], 78)- Wood sold for $3.50 a cord and coal for $7.00 a ton 
in Iowa (Nathan H. Parker, The Iowa Handbook for 1856 [Boston: John P. Jewett & 
Co., 1856], p. 65). 

36 P. 25. Burns also commented on the widespread use of hard coal (p. 51), and Isa- 
bella Bird Bishop wrote that anthracite was almost universally used in New York 
(P* 336 ). 

27 An Inquiry into the Influence upon Health of Anthracite Coal when Used as Fuel 
for Warming Dwelling Houses (Boston:' A. Williams & Co., 1868), p. 6. 

28 American Medical Association, Committee on Public Hygiene, p. 62 o; cf. also 
Charles Cist: “Wood, except for cooking purposes, is fuel here no longer,” p. 349. 

3 » E.g., Batcheler, p. 63; M. Willson Disher (ed.), The Cowells in America (London: 
Oxford University Press, 1934), p. 3; Gratton, I, 105-6; Pulszky, I, 265. Cf. John 
Gregory: “Few of the houses in this country have fire-places, the stove having almost 
banished them altogether. I consider the American stove, fed to fullness with dry hick- 
ory or maple, and confined in a room without a breath of ventilation, to be the greatest 


Some public buildings had been equipped with ventilating sys- 
tems, and plans for new houses usually included provision for 
ventilation of a sort; but real ventilation was not to come until 
much later. 

Gratton, who probably saw only the homes of the upper class, 
and those only in the Northeast, wrote that tallow candles were 
never seen. Lamp oil was cheap; and astral, solar, moderator, 
and other kinds of lamps were used; there were gas lamps and 
wax or spermaceti lights. A “strange and disagreeable looking 
lamp,” made of glass in the shape of an urn, was common in 
the best houses; the wick could be seen inside coiled up in oil 
and, passing upward through a small tin tube, it burned without 
a covering. These were the common bedroom lights, and one 
or more, very large and lofty, stood in every drawing-room. 30 
It is difficult to form any opinion about the use of gas for light- 
ing houses. Every northern community of any size had its gas 
company, the rates usually ranging from $ 2.00 to $4.00 a thou- 
sand cubic feet. Philadelphia’s had more than 41,000 cus- 
tomers. 31 But it seems unlikely that any large proportion of the 
population used gas for lighting. 

I have been able to find very little useful information about 
the furnishings and household equipment of any class of so- 
ciety; apparently the only writers who have been interested 
were interested only in the antiquarian aspects. 32 Even the well- 
to-do used only soft woods for floors; these floors were com- 
pletely covered by carpeting, and occasionally there were small 

enemy to man, cat or dog confined with it, that can be imagined” (. Industrial Resources 
of Wisconsin [Milwaukee: Starr’s Book & Job Printing Office, 1855], p. 254). 

3 ° Gratton, I, 106. 

3 1 For information about rates and service see McMillin, pp. 296-97 ; and J. W. 
Watson, “Gas and Gas-making,” Harper's Magazine , XXVI (1862), 14-28. Other rates 
are quoted in Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXI (1854), 224. 

Coal oil sold at prices ranging from 30 cents a gallon in New Cumberland, [West] 
Virginia, to $1.00 a gallon in Connecticut cities ( Tenth Census of the United States , XX, 
103). Retail prices of burning oils and fluids averaged a little more than $1.00 a gallon 
in Massachusetts, ranging from about 70 cents up to $1.50 a gallon (Massachusetts, 
Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year i 88 j, pp. 407 and 449). 

32 See above, pp. 97 if., for a summary of contemporary fashions in interior decora- 



rugs in addition . 33 But no large rugs like those now in common 
use could be manufactured, and if there were any oriental 
rugs they were very rare indeed. I think it is safe to assume 
that the furniture in the homes of the well-to-do — period furni- 
ture for the very wealthy, Victorian (hardly then to be regarded 
as “period” furniture) for those in moderate circumstances — 
was probably good and that there were pianos , 34 clocks, window 
curtains, and probably draperies in most of these homes. Only 
the very wealthy can have had imported chinaware and solid 
silver. Almost certainly there were family portraits and oil 
paintings, originals or copies, on the walls. The whole question 
of furniture and furnishings needs more study before any more 
significant generalizations can be made. 

These houses were city houses. Some of the wealthy built 
suburban homes or country residences. These ranged from un- 
pretentious Elizabethan cottages to elaborate and luxurious 
villas. Following the leadership of Downing and a few others, 
they were coming to be carefully landscaped, and they had, as 
far as possible, the conveniences of city homes (water, for in- 
stance, might be pumped from well or spring to a reservoir high 
enough to give pressure). The interiors were finished in keeping 
with the style and grandeur of the exterior. Robert Everest 
was impressed by Jamaica Plains, just outside Boston, where 
the wealthy had their villas, each in a wooded “park.” Some of 
the villas were stone, some wood, and most were imitations of 
Swiss or Elizabethan styles . 35 Close to New York, Westchester 
was a region of “country-seats,” where there were no poor people 
whose more humble dwellings might mar the landscape. “Miles 
and miles of unmitigated prosperity weary the eye. Lawns and 
park-gates, groves and verandahs, ornamental woods and neat 

33 Imported carpetings sold for from about Ji.oo a yard up to perhaps $2.00; domes- 
tic carpets sold at from 25 cents up to $1.00 or so, averaging about 40 cents a yard. I 
have found no information on rug prices, which may indicate that they were not very 
commonly sold. 

34 The average value (at factory) of pianos was about $240 ( Eighth Census : Manu- 
factures , p. clxvi). 

35 Robert Everest, A Journey through the United States and Part of Canada (London: 
John Chapman, 1855), p. 29. 



walls, trim hedges and well-placed shrubberies, fine houses and 
large stables, neat gravel-walks and nobody on them.” 36 

There can have been but few of the very wealthy; and if there 
were enough information it would be interesting to compare 
their houses with those of the much greater number of business- 
men, retired farmers, and others who would still have been con- 
sidered (by the poor, at least) well-to-do. From New England 
to Illinois the homes of this latter class seem to have been much 
alike. The house usually consisted of a parlor or sitting-room, 
or, rarely, of both, a kitchen, enough bedrooms for the family 
and any hired help, and a spare room for guests — who were 
likely to be frequent. (The parlor was usually kept closed and 
the shades drawn.) The house was probably heated by wood 
stoves, all of which except the kitchen range were set up in the 
fall and taken down in the spring. The range warmed the 
kitchen, and the sitting-room — the family gathering place — 
had its own heating stove. Sometimes one bedroom would have 
a small stove, but usually there were only the two. Candles 
were still much used for lighting, but lamps were becoming more 
frequent, especially in the East. The kitchen or sitting-room 
was used also as a dining-room, and both kitchen and dining- 
room chairs were plain in style. 37 The sitting-room floor was 
usually covered with a rag carpet, frequently with a layer of 
straw under it. Mottoes, framed certificates, aijd the like were 
frequent decorations, supplementing the steel or wood engrav- 
ings and the chromos. On its special shelf there was an upright 
wooden-case clock, and sometimes in the sitting-room a com- 
bined bookcase and writing desk of black walnut, having a 
drawer below and three or four bookshelves above. Occasion- 
ally there was an organ, and some of the more aristocratic par- 
lors had pianos. 38 

36 Nathaniel Parker Willis, Hurry-Graphs ; or Sketches of Scenery \ Celebrities , and So- 
ciety , Taken from Life (Auburn: Alden, Beardsley & Co., 1853), p. 130. 

37 In i860 the wholesale price of cane-seated maple bedroom chairs was $8.00 a 
dozen, of kitchen chairs $4.50 a dozen, and of pine kitchen tables (three feet, six 
inches) % 12.00 a dozen ( Aldrich Report l , II, 274-76). 

38 Lincoln's Springfield house was probably better than the typical home of down- 
state Illinois — it was referred to by Leslie's Weekly in December, 1864, as “indicative 


Rural homes . — All travelers into rural New England carried 
away the impression of villages very much alike, each one con- 
taining rows of neat detached frame houses, with porches, 
painted white except for the green of the shutters, surrounded 
by small flower beds, sometimes by vines and rosebushes, and 
with trees in front. The interiors, like the exteriors, were clean 
and neat. 39 One such village Quincy, Massachusetts, had been, 
though it was changing in the fifties: 

Up to as late as 1850 Quincy was practically what it had always been — a 
quiet, steady-going, rural Massachusetts community, with its monotonous 
main thoroughfares and commonplace connecting streets, both thorough- 
fares and byways lined with wooden houses, wholly innocent of any attempts 
at architecture, and all painted white with window blinds of green.* 0 

The New England farm, because it was likely to be snow- 
bound long months each winter, had its own traditional method 
of building: 

Northern rural communities constructed their houses with a string of 
sheds or barns trailing out behind the kitchen. Doors, connecting each unit 
with whatever preceded or followed, insured the owner's being able to reach 
and care for all live stock even in the most inclement weather. But an un- 
deviating rule was followed — the cattle were a long way from the kitchen. 

of the well-to-do country lawyer or retired farmer” (Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln; The 
War Years [New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1939], IV, 122). It had been built in 
1839 and purchased by Lincoln in 1844 for $1,500. It was a story-and-a-half frame 
house, with kitchen, living-room, and two bedrooms on the first floor, and two low 
rooms beneath the roof; the privy and stable were in the back yard: In the parlor ‘'early 
Victorian” furniture was set about in a square and uniform pattern. In 1856 or 1857 the 
house was raised to a full second story for an additional $1,300. (For pictures of the 
interior, typical of the period, see “Mr. Lincoln's House,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated 
Newspaper , XI [March 9, 1861], 245. A reproduction in miniature is also one of the 
Thorne collection in the Chicago Art Institute.) 

39 See, e.g., Baxter, p. 24; Isabella Bishop, p. 95; Chambers, pp. 50, 21 1; and Robert 
Russell, pp. 6-7. 

4 ° Charles Francis Adams, Charles Francis Adams , 1835-1915 (Boston: Houghton 
Mifflin Co., 1916), p. 227 . Cf. Dicey’s description of such villages. “I passed through 
villages without end; apd yet I never saw a cottage about which there was the unmis- 
takable stamp of want. It is true that white paint conceals a great deal of dirt, but still 
I saw no single cottage in which I should think it a hardship to have to live. Many of 
them had gardens, where wild vines and honeysuckles and roses were trained carefully. 
Through die windows you could see sofas, and rocking-chairs, and books, and lamps — 
all signs evidencing some degree of wealth, or at least of comfort. The poorest cottages 
were always those of the raw Irish emigrants, but still there was hardly one of them 
which was not a palace compared with the cottage of an ordinary English labourer, to 
say nothing of Ireland” (II, 178-79). 


First, next the kitchen, came the “buttery,” so called in New England, 
lined with wide shelves to hold flat crocks of milk waiting for the cream to 
raise; then came the woodshed, full to bursting; next, the work-shop, where on 
winter days laid by repairs for the whole year were made; adjoining the work- 
shop, usually, was the tool-shed, in which farm implements were kept together 
with the family conveyances; the granary followed, with bins for oats and 
corn; and not till then came the barns for horses, cows, sheep, pigs and fowls — 
with the Big Barn last of all, its heavy-timbered mows stored with hay and 
straw and running over with stolen hen’s nests, rustling mice and litter on 
litter of half-wild, scampering kittens . 41 

Perhaps our impressions of New England farmhouses and 
farm life fail to take sufficiently into account their less attrac- 
tive characteristics. A contemporary described the typical New 
England farmhouse as 

a square brown house; a chimney coming out of the middle of a roof; not a 
tree nearer than the orchard; and not a flower at the door. At one end pro- 
jects a kitchen; from the kitchen projects a wood-shed and wagon-cover, 
occupied at night by hens; beyond the woodshed, a hog-pen, fragrant and 

We enter the house at the back door, and find the family at dinner in the 
kitchen. A kettle of soap grease is stewing upon the stove, and the fumes of 
this, mingled with those that were generated by boiling the cabbage which 
we see upon the table, and by perspiring men in shirtsleeves, and by boots 
that have forgotten or do not care where they have been, make the air any- 
thing but agreeable to those who are not accustomed to it. This is the place 
where the, family live. They cook everything here for themselves and their 
hogs. They eat every meal here. They sit here every evening, and here they 
receive their friends. The women in the kitchen toil incessantly, from the 
time they rise in the morning until they go to bed at night. Here men and 
women, sons and daughters, live, in the belief that work is the great thing, 
that efficiency in work is the crowning excellence of manhood and woman- 
hood, and willingly go so far into essential self-debasement, sometimes, as to 
contemn beauty and those who love it, and to glory above all things in brute 
strength and brute endurance . 42 

Throughout the Middle states and into the Old Northwest 
the rural and small-town homes were one-and-a-half- or two- 
and-a-half-story frame houses, having usually from five to seven 
rooms and attic. The prevalence of the Gothic (or “Elizabe- 
than”) fashion had resulted in the construction of many frame 

41 Finley, p. 139. 

43 N. G. Holland, “Farming Life in New England,” Atlantic Monthly , II (1858), 



dwellings, steep roofed and high gabled, with cheap Gothic orna- 
ments, gables, pointed windows, verge boards, and the like, 
although most communities were crowded with the simplest 
form of boxlike frame houses. The character and location of the 
community had much to do with the appearance of its homes — 
Downing pointed out that in rural New York the houses were 
cheaply made and likely to be falling to pieces, the villages 
without trees, the streets overrun with pigs, while in Massa- 
chusetts the villages had broad streets lined with maples and 
elms and rows of neat and substantial dwellings, "evidencing 
order, comfort, and taste.” 43 In Pennsylvania the German 
farmers usually lived in "stone dwelling houses, well ce- 
mented.” 44 It was still customary in the Middle states to have 
the kitchen in the basement, though sometimes it was on the 
principal floor, perhaps in a separate wing. Few farmhouses had 
a separate dining-room, and either the kitchen or the sitting- 
room — more often the kitchen — served also as dining-room. 

There were regions even in New York and Pennsylvania 
which looked more like the Frontier than like parts of states 
long settled. The New York census of 1865 gives evidence of 
the use of thousands of log cabins in the fifties and sixties (see 
Table 2); and David Humphrey wrote, describing western 
Pennsylvania, in a letter dated May 17, 1856: "The ‘right 
smart sprinkling’ of log cabins looked like a new country, as it 
is.” 45 The census data is both comprehensive and quantitative; 
it offers a healthy antidote to such travelers’ accounts as give 
the impression of universal farm prosperity. Out in Illinois 
many lived in temporary houses, to be replaced as soon as pos- 
sible. 46 

Again, it is impossible to be very definite about what these 

43 Downing, Rural Essays , pp. 237-38. 

44 Johann G. Kohl, Travels in Canada and through the States of New York and Penn- 
sylvania , trans. Mrs. Percy Sinnet (London: George Manwaring, 1861), II, 327. 

4s Seth K. Humphrey, Following the Prairie Frontier (Minneapolis: University of 
Minnesota Press, 1931), p. 4. 

4 6 Kirkland, Atlantic Monthly , II, 481. The rest of the cottages, seen from the train 
window, were pretty and well planned, apparently nicely furnished inside. 



rural cottages and farmhouses were like on the inside. Probably 
few had sinks inside the house, and fewer still had running 
water, piped from a spring on the hillside. The toilets were out- 
side privies, and bathing had to be done in washtubs or basins. 
Apparently, at least in the Northeast, most rural homes were 
heated by stoves; if there was no heating stove, at least there 
was the iron range or cookstove to help in heating the house. 
Lighting was by homemade candles or at best by whale-oil or 
camphene lamps. Probably in most of the cottages the walls 

. TABLE 2 * 

Types of Dwelling House, New York State, 1855 and 1865 




Average Value 








7 , S 3 6 


1 -44 



# IO , 3 r 5 


57 , 45 ° 




















Other ; 







Not specified. 



°- 5 ° 



I , 66 l 

Total. . . 






# 1,644 

* Source: Census of the State of New York for the Year iS6s, p. ci. 

were whitewashed, though some may have been painted, others 
papered. There seems to have been, even among the poor and 
rural classes, a considerable use of rugs made of carpeting and 
of rag rugs in the principal rooms; there was also some use of 
matting. 47 That there were roller blinds at many of the windows 
I am inclined to doubt; but probably in a good many, if not 
most, farm homes the women would see to it that there were 
curtains of some sort. 48 

47 Cole and Williamson, pp. 81 and 100. 

48 “An annual rent of from twenty-five to a hundred dollars, these are the country 
rates, entitles him to the benefit of the improvements of centuries, spacious apartments, 
clean paint and paper, Rumford fireplace, back plastering, Venetian blinds, copper 

pump, spring lock, a commodious cellar, and many other things An average house 

in this neighborhood costs perhaps eight hundred dollars, and to layup this sum will take 



Homes of the working classes . 49 — Brick and stone were too ex- 
pensive for the laboring population — when they had their own 
homes they were sure to be frame. I have found no reason to 
believe that these houses were, in general appearance, greatly 
dissimilar from those occupied by the same segment of the popu- 
lation during the first years of the present century. I do sus- 
pect, however, that they were much less pleasing than we would 
at first believe from the accounts of contemporaries — who were 
probably mentally comparing them with workers' houses 
abroad. In New Haven, H. Reid admired the workmen’s cot- 
tages, set off by gardens and neat and comfortable looking . 50 A 
Concord, New Hampshire, physician reported that in his city 
the usual dwelling was a one-family, two-story frame house ; 51 
and probably everywhere except in the large industrial cities 
the one-family, free-standing house was the rule. Of Milwaukee 
a contemporary chronicler wrote that there were “few if any 
tenement houses Mechanics and laboring men can al- 

ways find a desirable cottage of one story, tastily surrounded 
by a garden, and furnished with all the conveniences of more 
expensive mansions, which can be rented for a moderate sum. 5,52 

Once again I shall have to be very vague in saying anything 
about the interiors of these houses. None of them, I feel sure, 

from ten to fifteen years of the laborer’s life, even if he is not encumbered with a family — 
estimating the pecuniary value of every man’s labor at one dollar a day, for if some re- 
ceive more, others receive less — so that he must have spent more than half his life com- 
monly before his wigwam will be earned” (Thoreau, Walden , pp. 33-34) . (Thoreau goes 
on to say that farmers had to work twenty to forty years to pay for their farms and that 
the assessors could not name a dozen in Concord who owned their farms clear of debt.) 

49 Especially in the industrial towns and cities many lived in tenement houses and 
boarding-houses; for these accommodations see chap vi. 

s° P. 227. (In current British usage “garden” meant “yard” rather than a flower or 
vegetable garden.) 

51 American Medical Association, Committee on Public Hygiene, p. 446. 

52 A. C. Wheeler, The Chronicles of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Jermain & Brightman, 
1861), p. 276; cf. Dicey’s comment on St. Louis (above, p. 111). However, just out- 
side St. Louis the Countess Pulszky had observed squatters — mostly free Negroes — liv- 
ing in log cabins (II, 183). 

There was a great variation in rents, depending upon the type of house and the city 
in which it was located; for New England and the Middle states the average seems to 
have been around $4.50 a month for a four-room house, $6. 00 a month for a six-room 
house (see Appen. D, Tables 33-34). 



had bathtubs or inside toilets; some houses lacked even an out- 
side privy. 53 Many, if not most, were heated by stoves, but 
probably no great proportion of them had a heating stove in the 
sitting-room as a supplement to the kitchen range, and almost 
none had heated bedrooms. 54 There was no ventilation except 
by doors and windows; and, since every effort must have been 
made to conserve heat, the atmosphere must have been very 
stuffy indeed. Whether very many of the working class felt 
they could afford oil or camphene lamps I don’t know; certainly 
a great many of them still burned candles. 55 But glass was fair- 
ly cheap, 56 and its use must have been common even among this 
part of the population. Carpetings and matting could be ob- 
tained for 25 or 30 cents a yard; these and rag rugs constituted 
the floor coverings where there were any (and foreigners were 
surprised at how commonly there were such floor coverings). 57 
There is nothing to show whether many of these houses had 
their walls papered, but probably most of them had bare, or 
at best whitewashed, walls; they may, however, have been dec- 
orated with cheap lithographs and prints. The furniture, we 
can assume, was factory-made, of the cheapest sort, and in the 
very poorest homes homemade from boxes and boards. Melo- 
deons, although some models could be purchased for less than 
$50, were in the luxury class. The tableware consisted of plain 
porcelain or of an inferior grade of crockery, and plain tum- 
blers; 58 some families may have been able to afford knives, forks, 
and spoons of silver plate. 

53 Cf. American Medical Association, Committee on Public Hygiene, pp. 499-500, 
for conditions in Boston. 

34 In Concord, New Hampshire, the homes were most of them warmed by closed 
stoves; in Portland, Maine, by wood or coal stoves; in Cincinnati by coal stoves or 
grates or wood stoves {ibid., pp. 446, 452, 620) .• 

53 V. S. Clark says that, in most of the country, people still used homemade candles 
for most of their lighting (I, 494). 

36 Wholesale prices of window glass ini 860 were as low as $1.63! for fifty feet (Ameri- 
can thirds); French firsts cost $3.20 {Aldrich Report, II, 241-43). Fifty feet would be 
the equivalent of, say, 150 six-by-eight-inch panes or 51 ten-by-fourteen-inch panes. 

37 Miss Kyrk calls my attention to the fact that Carroll D. Wright’s study of housing 
conditions in Massachusetts in 1875 showed that even as late as that 48 per cent of the 
houses had no carpeted room and that only 11 per cent had a piano or organ. 

38 The average retail price of drinking tumblers in Massachusetts,, 185 1-60, was just 
under $1.00 a dozen, though in the latter half of the decade the usual price paid seems to 



We must not conclude, however, that all the working class, 
except for the tenement population, lived as well as this. There 
were, for instance, “squatters” even in and around the big 
cities. Although I find almost nothing written about them, 
there is some reason to believe that they were a large group . 59 
Others, though not squatters, lived in miserable shacks, some- 
times in the cities, sometimes on their edges . 60 


City homes . — -Weld wrote of Baltimore that its wide streets 
were lined with good houses, well built and furnished with great 
elegance. The doors were mostly painted in light colors, and 
there were cut glass “handles” and silver-plated knockers. In 
front of the houses were white-marble steps and elegant iron 
balustrades, surmounted by silver-plated knobs . 61 But Balti- 
more was already unique in its housing, typical of the South 
only in that southern houses of the well-to-do did run more to 
brick than did those of the North. Unique also was New Or- 
leans, with the Creole architecture of its “French Quarter ” 62 and 
with other distinctive differences. Building construction there. 

have been closer to 60 or 65 cents a dozen (Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Indus- 
tries, Annual Report for the Year f88f, p. 422). The wholesale price of a seven-inch 
white granite plate was 7 cents, of a white granite cup and saucer, 9 cents ( Aldrich Re- 
port f, II, 269-73). 

59 “It is estimated by those who are perfectly competent to judge, that there is a 
population of 20,000 on this island that neither pay rent for the dwellings they occupy 
nor municipal taxes as holders of real estate. They comprise that portion of the popula- 
tion known as squatters” ( New York Times , November 21, 1864, cited by the Report 
upon the Sanitary Condition of the City , pp. 292-93); see also p. 121, n. 52, respecting 
squatters around St. Louis. 

60 “It is a mistake to suppose that, in a country where the usual evidences of civili- 

zation exist, the condition of a very large body of the inhabitants may not be as degrad- 
ed as that of savages To know this I should not need to look farther than the 

shanties which everywhere border our railroads, that last improvement in civilization; 
when I see in my daily walks human beings living in sties, and all winter with an open 
door, for the sake of light, without any visible, often imaginable, wood pile, and the 
forms of both old and young are permanently contracted by the long habit of shrinking 
from cold and misery, and the development of all their limbs and faculties is checked” 
[Thoreau, p. 38]; see also p. 110, n. 13, for the homes of the poor in Chicago. 

61 Weld, p. 334. 

62 For a description of the Creole architecture of New Orleans see Tallmadge, pp. 
135 - 38 . 



with the swampy soil and the constant menace of the Missis- 
sippi, entailed considerable difficulty. According to Edward Sul- 
livan, instead of the solid foundation found in other cities, a 
raft was made of three-inch planks, sunk in the slime, and houses 
built upon it. 65 Whether this was really the common method 
of building or not I don’t know; in any case it was customary 
to have no basement. The homes of the better class were gen- 
erally of one story, ornamented with green verandas, having 
balconies, and with their principal rooms open to the street. 
Most of them were of wood, of an early style; some were of 
stucco, with landscaped yards. 64 In some parts of the city there 
were new brick buildings of a more distinctly American type. 65 
Since some of the inhabitants were quite wealthy, the city 
boasted a few really fine residences. Mrs. Sam Cowell copied 
into her journal from the New Orleans Picayune the description 
of one new house which was quite luxurious. 66 

Elsewhere in the South the houses usually conformed to one 
of a very few common types. Some were columned mansions, 
like those described in novels of southern life. A common floor 
plan was T-shaped, often the result of additions. Sometimes the 
back porch evolved into a cross-hall, giving cross-ventilation. 
Another type had an entrance hall extending to the middle of 
the main body of the house; then through a latticed swinging 
door one entered a large room with windows and a door which 
opened on the back porch. The passage and latticed door gave 
an air current through, but preserved privacy for, the back 
sitting-room. On either side of the hall were the parlor and 
guestroom and back of these the family room and another guest- 
room; back of the dining-room was the kitchen, usually de- 
tached. Not uncommonly, chimneys ascended through the very 
center of the upstairs rooms. The houses were sturdily built, 
with tough timbers. The flat or deck roof and low hip or ridge 
roofs were common. The entrance to the house was often double 

63 Rambles and Scrambles in North and South America (London: Richard Bentley, 
1852), p.219. 

Phillippo, p. 302, 

65 Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States , p. 581. 

66 Disher, p. 69. 



doors, with side windows and fanlights. Occasionally in the 
more pretentious houses there were beautiful hand-carved 
stairs; but the stairs were usually utilitarian and concealed — 
the continuous-rail stair, without a landing, was the most com- 
mon. Windows were small, four panes to each, and they were 
without weights, being propped up with sticks or held up by 
buttons attached to the window casings. As in the rest of the 
country, there were no fly screens . 67 

Southern cities were never industrial, in the sense that the 
factory cities and towns of the North were industrial, and in- 
dustrial wage-workers made up no great proportion of the pop- 
ulation. But there were many poor people, and the houses of 
the rich are no more typical of the South than of the North. In 
Baltimore, houses for the laboring classes were usually two- or 
three-story brick buildings, sixteen feet wide and thirty or more 
feet deep; behind the main building was a back building of the 
same height, and between the two a yard with privy and hy- 
drant. Usually these houses were occupied by single families, 
though sometimes they were sublet; only in a few instances among 
the very poor did a number of families occupy the same house. 
But in some sections there were whole streets occupied by a 
wretched population, mostly German and Irish, crowded to- 
gether in what was for Baltimore an unseemly and unhealthy 
manner . 68 

Nine-tenths of the people in Richmond, according to a visitor 
there, lived in old wooden shanties, patched-up tumbling stables 
and dwellings, on dusty or muddy roads . 69 Charleston’s poor 

67 Boyd, pp. 100 ff. For brief characterizations of the better homes in various south- 
ern cities and towns see Mitchell, p. 64; Tallack, p. 49; Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States , 
pp. 20, 135, 318, 575, 581; Phillippo, p. 296; Parsons, p. 23; Robert Russell, p. 258; Wil- 
liam Howard Russell, p. 113; Lillian Foster, Way-Side Glimpses , North and South (New 
York: Rudd & Carleton, i860), p. 188; Dicey, II, 76-77. 

68 William Travis Howard, Public Health Administration and the Natural History of 
Disease in Baltimore , Maryland , IJ9J-1920 (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1924), 
p. 30. Baltimore, in 1855, had 31,188 residential buildings and 34,042 buildings of all 
sorts. Of these, two-thirds were two story, and only 525 less than two story {Hunt's 
Merchants' Magazine ), XXXIV [1856], 384-85). 

69 Mitchell, p. 64. It was a propos of Richmond houses that Tallack wrote that the 
wooden houses of the United States were surprisingly neat and comfortable, many with 
good porches, galleries, or verandas (p. 49). 


lived in one-family wood buildings, though two-story brick ten- 
ements were coming into use. 70 In Louisville the houses of the 
poor were overcrowded and built too close to the ground to be 
healthful. 71 In the towns of Louisiana and Texas most of the 
homes were one-story frame cottages, with verandas, 72 although 
throughout the Gulf states the transition to the Frontier was 
abrupt — Parsons found the governor of Georgia living in a log 
house. 73 

Little has been written about the houses of the freed Ne- 
groes. At the time of emancipation it was estimated that not 
less than 11,000 Negro families owned their homes, some of 
them large and well built. 74 But for the most part the freed 
Negroes, who labored under social handicaps even when they 
could earn a good living, seem to have been nearly as badly 
housed as the slaves. Behind the woods from Ceciltown, Mary- 
land, there were little clusters of huts, called Crooktown and 
Perrytown, which were inhabited by freed Negroes, 7S and the 
freed Negroes of Baltimore were not much better housed. 76 In 
Washington, D.C., the houses of the freed Negroes ran the 
gamut from hovels to commodious homes. The hovels were 
crouched behind the imposing dwellings of their employers or 
were grouped in hidden alleyways. The homes of the well-to-do 
Negroes, scattered here and there, had either been purchased 
before passage of the law forbidding freed Negroes to own prop- 
erty or had been acquired in defiance of it. There were some 
separate communities, especially in southwest Washington in 
which only freed Negroes lived. 77 

70 American Medical Association, Committee on Public Hygiene, p. 58 y. 

71 Ibid., pp. 614-15. 

7a Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States , p. 581; Mrs. Teresa Griffin Viele, Following the 
Brum (New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1859), p. 80. 

73 P. 115. 

74 George E. Haynes, The Trend of the Races , quoted in Thomas D. Eliot (ed.), 
American Standards and Planes of Living (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1931), pp. 130-31. 

73 Coppin, pp. 25-26. 

76 Howard, p. 30. 

77 Federal Writers’ Project, W.P.A., Washington: City and Capital (Washington: 
Government Printing Office, 1937), p. 73. 



The South was far behind the North in its use of water fix- 
tures and sanitary equipment. The leading position among 
southern cities was taken by Baltimore, which in 1859 had 
2,514 baths and 698 water closets, 78 most of them of the pan 
type, 79 for a population numbering 212,4x8 in i860. In few 
southern cities was there a water-supply system, and running 
water called for the installation of water tanks on platforms. 
These tanks were filled from a deep well by a hand pump (on 
farms sometimes by a windmill) or occasionally by rain-water 
drains. It was usually piped only to the kitchen, and the “wash 
stand with its marble top, its bowl and pitcher, and its towel 
rack was an indispensable piece of furniture in the bedroom of 
the genteel/’ Among the less affluent a basin, a bucket of water 
with a gourd, and a homespun towel on a shelf or table on the 
back porch constituted the sanitary equipment. 80 

Heating was not the problem in the South that it was in the 
North. It was reported that in Charleston stoves were rare in 
1 849 and that in Louisville there were some stoves, some fire- 
places. 81 Coal was brought up the river from Mobile to Tusca- 
loosa, where it sold at J1.00-f1.50 a barrel; at 10-12 cents a 
bushel it was used almost to the exclusion of wood, as it was also 
at Mobile. 82 But in most parts of the South the only facilities, 
apart from the kitchen cookstove, seem to have been fireplaces 
in which log fires were occasionally kindled. 

The South, probably because it was more rural, was far 
behind the North in the number of gas companies, and the 
rates charged (from $2.00 to $4.50 a thousand feet) were some- 
what, though not conspicuously, higher. It is do.ubtful that gas 

7 8 Baltimore, Water Department, Annual Report for the Year 1859 (Baltimore:. Mc- 
Coull & Slater, 1859), P* 61; cf. also the advertisement in the Lexington (Ky.) Observer 
and Reporter , August 22, i860: “Luxuries! Bath tubs for bathing in warm weather!” 

79 Howard, p. I44. 

80 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 717-18; Boyd, pp. 108-9. 

81 American Medical Association, Committee on Public Hygiene, pp. 585, 615. 

83 DeBow’s Review, X (1851), 73-74. Cooking and range coal was advertised in the 
Washington Union for $5.00 and $ 6.00 a ton (March 20, 1859), and in the Tri-Weekly 
Maysville Eagle coal was advertised for 9 cents [a bushel?] at the river, 11 cents at the 
yard (May 18, 1858); see also Appen. D. 



was much used for house-lighting in any southern community, 
with the possible exception of Baltimore. In North Carolina, 
Raleigh, Wilmington, Charlotte, and New Bern had gaslights 
by i860, and the wealthy, after 1845, made much use of cam- 
phene lamps and, in 1859 and after, of kerosene lamps. But the 
average family in comfortable circumstances still had one tallow 
candle on the supper table, two sperm candles or a camphene 
lamp in the parlor, and a tallow candle to carry about the 
house. 83 The same was true of Alabama: kerosene lamps were 
coming into use in isolated cases, and there were the beginnings 
of gaslighting in some communities; but for the most part 
candles were used for lighting, and whale oil and lard were the 
illuminants in such lamps as were used. 84 

In Alabama there have survived many four-poster, spool, and 
trundle beds, corner cupboards, high-backed chairs, rush-bot- 
tomed chairs, highboys and bureaus, tables and whatnots. Of 
the plainer sort of furniture, splint-bottomed chairs and pine 
tables remain to indicate what people used in the ante bellum 
period. The homes of the wealthier families were elegantly fur- 
nished, with pianos, velvet carpets, lace curtains, and oil por- 
traits. There were immense feather mattresses — and others of 
wool, cotton, and shucks — and woven counterpanes, patch- 
work quilts, and crazy quilts. 85 Even in the better-constructed 
houses of the South in the absence of screens the habit of sleep- 
ing in curtained beds persisted; there were shutters, but these 
were poor protection against insects. During meals a small Ne- 
gro might operate a pulled fly brush or agitate a turkey-feather 
fan. 86 

Plantation homes . — The “Big House” of the southern planta- 
tion has become so much a part of tradition that it is difficult to 
know where fact leaves off and fancy begins. The plantation of 

*3 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 233. 

84 Boyd, p. 108. 8s Ibid pp. 105-7. 

86 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 719. Booker T. Washington, when 
a small boy on the plantation, used to go to the “big house” at mealtime to fan the flies 
from the table by means of large paper fans operated through a pulley (Washington, 
P- 9 )- 



tradition, in so far as it existed, was to be found only in tide- 
water Virginia, the rice districts of South Carolina, the lower 
Mississippi Valley, and to a smaller extent in certain Piedmont 
sections . 87 

This traditional plantation mansion was likely to be a ten- or 
twelve-room country house, standing upon an elevation along 
the roadside or upon a river bluff. The approach to it was by a 
road coming up with a wide sweep between rows of trees; the 
grounds were planted to tall, spreading trees and to shrubs, 
with pieces of statuary here and there. The nearer the house it- 
self resembled a Greek temple, the better; and columns the 
height of the house, massive if possible, were the rule. The 
building material, too, was chosen with the same desire to imi- 
tate the Greek; and, while wood, painted white, was most com- 
monly used, stuccoed brick was preferred. 

There were two distinguishing characteristics of southern 
houses: the hall running the full depth of the house and the 
veranda spanning the front and sometimes surrounding the 
house. The wide hall gave entrance to the parlors, the library, 
and the dining-room; a similar hall on the second floor opened 
on the living-rooms of the family. Ceilings were high and win- 
dows tall and wide. Carpets, when there were any, were of 
plain design. On the walls there were portraits of ancestors and 
various other pictures and steel engravings. Furniture as a rule 
was plain but somewhat massive. 

The kitchen, in these southern homes, stood wide apart, and 
in many cases the dining-room was “semi-detached,” standing 
across a porch from the main body of the house. On a large 
plantation there might be several detached outbuildings — an 
office, a lodge, a smokehouse, a carriage house, a poultry-house, 
a dovecot, and houses for domestic servants, besides the ice 
pits, sweet-potato pits, and wells . 88 

87 Gaines, p. 144. 

88 This description is drawn largely from Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Life and Labor in 
the Old South (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1929), pp. 330-32; from Phillips, American 
Negro Slavery , pp. 309-10; and from Dodd, Cotton Kingdom , pp. 71-72. 

For local variations see Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States , pp. 6, 17, 76-86, 91-92, 659, 
and passim ; Douglass, p. 67; G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 226, and 


From the storybook mansion of the wealthy down to the 
shack of the poor white there was every gradation. Even on a 
good many of the large plantations the planter’s residence was 
far from being such a mansion as has just been described. 

The type of residence varied with the wealth of the owner, length of time 
since settlement of the region, and permanence of the agriculture. On some of 
the older Virginia plantations and in the sugar regions there were many 
stately mansions, frequently built of imported materials and surrounded with 
the elaborate handiwork of the landscape gardener. The unhealthfulness of 
the climate in the rice region and the rapid exhaustion of the land in the cotton 
region inclined most of the planters to content themselves with modest 
quarters. There were hundreds of plantations owned by absentees and pro- 
vided with no “great houses.” Throughout the cotton region the plantation 
houses of the middle-class planters were the reverse of elaborate. At best, 
they were comfortable frame cottages; at worst, they were miserable log huts. 
In newer plantation districts there were numerous plantation dwellings 
constructed of logs . 89 

Many planters lived in simple frame cottages of four or five 
rooms. Usually there was a wide hall the length of the house 
separating two groups of rooms; or two rooms and a piazza 
sprawled out in the rear from the two rooms in front, forming 
together an enormous L or T. Furnishings, too, were simple. 
The unpainted floor was bare or covered with hand-woven rugs, 
the walls whitewashed, sometimes papered or plastered. The 
furniture was usually made from native wood by the head of the 
family or a local artisan, and even in the fifties the Dutch oven 
and the frying pan were the chief kitchen utensils . 90 Farther 
west the houses were even less pretentious. Most of the plant- 
ers’ houses in Mississippi, according to Van Buren, were long, 
log, story-and-a-half structures, verandas front and rear, with 
an open hall in the middle. They were elevated from the ground 
for coolness and retreated back from the road. Generally they 

Sea Islands , pp. 109-12; Avirett, pp. 37-42; Gilmore, pp. 94-95; “An Englishman in 
South Carolina/' Continental Monthly , II (1862), 691; Burke, pp. 103-4, in-12; Boyd, 
pp. 101, 104; John S. C. Abbott, South and North (New York: Abbey & Abbot, i860), 
p. 66; William P. Spratling, Old Plantation Houses in Louisiana (New York: William 
Helbrun, Inc., 1927); Northup, p. 263. 

89 Gray, I, 540. 

50 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 227. 



were surrounded by heavy trees and shrubbery and by flowers. 
It appears from Van Buren’s account that the most valuable 
part of their household equipment, frequently costing more than 
a hundred dollars, was a large, high-posted, heavy-topped bed- 
stead, rich and massive . 91 

The yeoman farmer’s house was typically a four-room log or 
frame house — two rooms separated by a partition, a loft above 
reached by a narrow stairway or ladder, and a small lean-to at 
the end of the back porch, with an immense stone chimney. 
Other such farmers lived in one- or two-room log houses, while 
the most prosperous of that class might even have comfortable 
brick houses . 92 Most of the houses Olmsted saw on his travels 
were small houses of logs or loosely boarded frame construction, 
usually without glass windows. Some were built on stilts, and 
many of them were built with roofs projecting eight or ten feet 
beyond the wall; a part of the space thus formed could be in- 
closed to make a sort of room. The fireplace was usually at one 
end, of sticks and mud . 93 Other travelers described the farm- 
ers’ houses in much the same terms — no glass, no lighting except 
for the fireplace, the doors hung on gudgeons and fastened with 
wooden latches and strings of green hide, outside chimneys of 
the crudest construction. Furniture was scanty and home- 
made . 94 

The homes oj the poor whites. — A little lower than these yeo- 
men in the social scale, though not separated by any clear line 
of distinction, were the poor whites. They were a large group, 
including perhaps the majority of the southern whites such 
people as the crackers or hillbillies of northern Georgia and 

91 Pp. 52, 207. See also the descriptions by Captain Horton Rhys, A Theatrical Trip 
... * through Canada and the United States (Londoni Charles Dudley, 1862), pp. 123— 
24; Mallard, pp. 16-19; Olmsted, Back Country , p. 20— all of small houses, varying in 
construction and neatness but far from the traditional mansion. 

9* See the descriptions in Gray, I, 489; Dodd, Cotton Kingdom , pp. 91-93; and G. G. 
Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 224-25. 

w Seaboard Slave States , pp. 17, 3 2 L 33 °> 3f°> 384-85, 393, 575; Back Country , p. 
233; Texas Journey , pp. 47-48, 60. 

94 E.g., Gilmore, pp. 278-79, 293-94, and particularly Parsons, pp. 107-13; see also 
R. H. Williams, With the Border Ruffians (Toronto: Musson Book Co., Ltd., 1919), pp. 
13-14; and Boyd, p. 104. 



north central Alabama and the poor whites on semibarren land. 
Sometimes they owned a few slaves, and their homes might in 
some instances be better than those of their social superiors. 
They differed little in their manner of life from the pioneer stage 
of historical development. Sometimes they owned little be- 
sides a rifle, the poor homemade furniture of their cabin, and 
numerous dogs. Their clothing was spun and woven by the 
women of the family, and they lived on what they could pro- 
vide for themselves, exchanging skins, game, or a little meal for 
coffee and occasionally “sweetening” for the coffee or for the 
sassafras tea, and for ammunition. They were called the “piney- 
woods people,” “dirt-eaters,” “clay-eaters,” “the tallow faced 
gentry,” “sand-hillers,” or “crackers.” Men, and even women, 
are pictured as having been inveterate drunkards, and the wom- 
en smoked and chewed. 95 

Such people usually lived in one-room cabins, the logs un- 
hewn and inadequately chinked. Frequently there was no win- 
dow of any kind, and almost certainly there would be no glass 
window. There was no floor but the bare earth; the furniture 
seldom included more than a bedstead or two, a rough pine 
table, a rough homemade chair or two, and perhaps an impro- 
vised cupboard and sometimes a spinning wheel. Some of them 
had even less furniture — benches or packing boxes used instead 
of chairs.' All were dirty and unkempt. 96 

The homes of the slaves . — There were two general classes of 
slaves. The field hands lived in one-room cabins, usually 
grouped together in the slave quarters at a distance from the 
big house; the problem of sanitation and health had the super- 
vision of the master or his overseer. The domestic servants 
lived in or near the big house. 

9 *Dodd, Cotton Kingdom , pp. 30-35; Gray, I, 483-84; Paul H. Buck, 'The Poor 
Whites of the Ante-bellum South,” American Historical Review , XXXI (1925), 41-54; 
Avery O. Craven, "Poor Whites and Negroes in the Ante-bellum South,” Journal of 
Negro History , XV (1930), 14-25. 

The isolated mountaineers may be considered as still another group, but it seems un- 
necessary to make that distinction here. 

96 See the descriptions in Dodd, Cotton Kingdom , pp. 94-95; Gilmore, pp. 69-70, 169; 
Burke, p. 209; Olmsted, Back Country , p. 198. 



There was so much variation among the quarters provided 
their slaves by the thousands of planters that generaliza- 
tion is difficult. The general run of cabin was probably better 
than was usually believed in the North: the Negroes were prop- 
erty, and it would have been a foolish economy to have paid too 
little attention to their physical well-being. The ordinary ar- 
rangement was to erect the cabins in rows, about fifty feet apart 
and with a couple of hundred feet between the rows; these quar- 
ters were sometimes near the “big house,” sometimes well re- 
moved. The usual cabin was a one-room, one-family unit, about 
sixteen by eighteen feet; but some planters preferred two-family 
cabins, and occasionally houses were built to house four or more 
families. Probably most of them were of logs, but many were of 
frame construction, and a few even of brick. If they were of 
logs, the logs might or might not be hewn; but the type most 
commonly reported was of unhewn logs, inadequately chinked, 
and with no glass. The more progressive planters erected their 
cabins on stilts, a couple of feet or so above the ground, for sani- 
tary reasons, and whitewashed them once a year. The best of 
the cabins had plank floors and brick chimneys, but probably 
most of them had no floor but the earth, and a stick-and-mud 
chimney. None of the planters went so far as to provide lighting 
of any sort, and anything requiring light had to be done by day 
or in the light of the fireplace. Some planters provided fire- 
wood, some let the slaves take what they wanted from a com- 
mon pile, still others made the slaves forage for their own. 

There was the same variation when it came to furniture: al- 
most always there was a bedstead, but even this might be lack- 
ing; frequently there was a rough table and a few chairs or 
benches, and sometimes a clothes chest. There was an iron pot, 
sometimes a skillet or two, for cooking, and tin plates and cups 
with a few gourd dippers, for eating. 

Slave families were usually large, and living in a single room 
meant that the quarters were rather cramped. More liberal 
planters saw to it that big families had more roomy quarters or 
built a lean-to when the family increased. 

Such a summary cannot take into account the local varia- 



tions — on the Georgia coast, for instance, the houses were often 
built of tabby (a plaster of burned oyster shells, lime, and sand, 
applied to a wattled surface) — or the variations from plantation 
to plantation. But the living conditions of the slaves have been 
the subject of so many studies that detail seems unnecessary 
here. 97 


The southwest frontier . — It is often forgotten that there was a 
frontier in the Deep South, that the inhabitants of the western 
part of the cotton belt were pioneers, whose living conditions re- 
flected the newness of the country just as did living conditions 
elsewhere on the Frontier. On this cotton frontier, just as far- 
ther north, it was the normal practice to use the logs felled in 
clearing to make the house. These logs would be notched and 
a simple, one-room cabin of unhewn poles erected. The crevices 
could be filled in with clay, and the batten door and window 
shutters hung on wooden or leather hinges. As time went on, 
this cabin could be expanded into the “double cabin,” of which 
there were a great many not only on theFrontier but throughout 
the South: a second cabin would be built, ten or fifteen feet 
from the first, and connected to it by the roof, providing a shel- 
tered space between. If the planter’s prosperity seemed to indi- 
cate further improvements, this cabin would be replaced by a 
more carefully built one of hewn logs, following the same floor 

97 Among modern studies the following may be cited: Ballagh, p; 103; Flanders, pp. 
152-56; G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 525-26, and Sea Islands , pp. 
89-91; Moody, pp. 72-74; Patterson, pp. 65-66; Taylor, pp. 81-82. 

The practices of the best planters are described in DeBow, Industrial Resources , II, 
331-38, and IV, 177; in DeBow' s Review , XXIV (1858), 325; in Starnes, pp. 493 ff.; and 
in Phillips, American Negro Slavery , pp. 251-53, 267. 

Descriptions by former slaves give the reverse side of the picture: Douglass, pp. 66, 
101-2; Northup, pp. 169-71; and Washington, pp. 2-4. 

For descriptions by visitors from the North and from abroad see: Abbott, pp. 66-6 7, 
1x9, 154-55, 161; “An Englishman in South Carolina,” Continental Monthly , II (1862), 
693; Gilmore, pp. 105-6, 128-29; John Dixon Long, Pictures of Slavery in Church and 
State (Philadelphia: The Author, 1857), pp. 18-19; Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States , pp. 
6, 88, 90, 111-12, 348-49, 386, 393, 416-17, 421-22, 629-30, 659-60, 684; Back Country , 
pp. 74, 141; and Texas Journey , pp. 42, 66; and James Stirling, Letters from the Slave 
States (London: John W. Parker & Son, 1857), P- ^64. 

There are also descriptions in memoirs relating to plantation days, e.g., Avirett, p. 
49; and Mallard, pp. 29-31. 



plan, but with the joints true, the walls plumb, the crevices 
thoroughly chinked, the chimney of stone or brick. New rooms 
could be added to this or a second story raised. 98 These houses, 
as those of the northern frontier, were frequently built by 
“raisings.” 99 

Olmsted described the house of a Texas cattle grazer — a one- 
room log cabin, fourteen feet by fourteen, with a small lean- 
to of boards. There were three doors, but no window — since the 
house was open to the rafters and the roof had holes between the 
shingles, a window would have been superfluous. A rough- 
board box contained the crockery, another the meal, coffee, 
sugar, and salt; in a log smokehouse was pork. The house fur- 
nishings consisted of a bed, a table, four deer-hide-seated chairs, 
a skillet, a coffee kettle, and a frying pan. 100 The cottages along 
the coast roads of eastern Texas were typically low walled, of 
timber and mud, with a high and sloping roof and a chimney of 
stakes and mud. The usual floor plan was a long living-room, 
a kitchen at one end, and a bedroom at the other. 101 Olmsted 
estimated that a small-scale farmer, newly arrived in Texas with 
a thousand dollars to invest, would spend a hundred and fifty 
dollars on his cabin and furniture. 102 

Housing in the Mississippi Valley. — The rapid western move- 
ment of population left what is now the Middle West and even 
some parts of the East only partially settled. David Humphrey 
wrote back from Indiana in 1855: “A settlement consists of one 
log cabin and an acre of cleared land; and a town, of a cabin, 
blacksmith’s shop, and sawmill.” 103 Erastus F. Beadle noted in 
his diary (March 12, 1857) that between Michigan City and In- 
dianapolis “the buildings were nothing but the poorest kind of 

98 Phillips, Life and Labor , pp. 328-30; cf. also Beadle’s description of a double cabin 
in Missouri (pp. 18-19). 

99 Smedes, pp. 29-30. 

100 Texas Journey , pp. 100-102. 101 Ibid., p. 402. 

102 Ibid., p. 460. In Austin rents were high — $10,00 a month for a poor log shanty, the 
cheapest thing available. There was no coal obtainable; charcoal cost 25 cents a bushel 
and wood $3.00 a cord (p. 1 15). 

10 3 P. 6. 



logg [sic] huts.” 104 When these first cabins were replaced by 
more permanent dwellings, the new ones, too, were built by 
“raising bees.” 105 

The houses of rural Illinois are described in Charles B. John- 
son’s reminiscences. 106 In the ruder cabins floors were made of 
puncheons, in the better ones of evenly sawed oak boards (which 
in time shrank and left cracks which let in the cold air.) Over- 
head unhewn beams supported rough boards that constituted 
the ceiling of the main room and the floor of the loft, reached by 
means of a ladder and trap door. The loft served as an extra 
bedroom. The clapboard roof of the cabin let snow sift in. The 
stone fireplace and hearth occupied a large part of one end of 
the cabin, but the chimney, of sticks and clay, ran up the out- 
side. The one window contained six panes of glass, six by six 
inches, and the door was swung on wooden hinges and was 
fastened with a wooden latch and a leather string. The furniture 
included a little table with a Bible and an almanac on it, two 
beds, each with a huge feather tick and sheets and blankets and 
a prized counterpane, and perhaps a trundle bed. A valance 
hung from the bed nearly to the floor, concealing the trundle 
bed or whatever was stored under the bed. A large chest con- 
tained more bedclothing and some of the better wearing ap- 

Meals were cooked on the stone hearth and over the fire- 
place and served on blue-edged dishes on a drop-leaf table 
pulled out in front of the fireplace. The chief cooking utensil was 
a “spider” — a skillet with legs and with a heavy iron cover 
which held hot coals; other skillets were also used, placed di- 
rectly on the fire. Matches were in common use in the fifties, so 
that there was no longer the trouble of going to the neighbors or 

I0 * P. 6. 

“5 Pulszky, II, 75. H. H. Riley’s “semi-fictional” account of the household posses- 
sions of a western village is suggestive: “The household furniture of the Puddlefordians 
was always in fashion: in fact, there was a remarkable uniformity in this respect in all 
the cabins in the settlement. The white-wood table, the dozen cups and saucers, the 
cookstove and its furniture, bed and bedding, comprised the stock of nearly every fam- 
ily” ( Puddleford and Its People [New York: Samuel Hueston, 1854], p. 264). 

t0< Illinois in the Fifties , pp. 12-18, 33-35, 53. 



of lighting a fire by means of the flintlock rifle if the fire went 
out. Candles were made at home, in molds, and coarse cloth 
and carpets were woven at home on a loom. Outhouses were 
built with several rooms — a smokehouse, a room for rendering 
lard, rooms for soap-making, washing, and so on. People in that 
part of the country seldom took baths; when a bath was neces- 
sary they used a wooden tub . 107 

One pioneer family in Michigan lived in a poorly chinked 
cabin, the boards for the floor brought from a sawmill nine miles 
away, the fireplace of mud and stone. The furniture — two 
chairs, bunks, a settle, a table, several stools — was all home- 
made. Later the cabin was improved by putting in three win- 
dows and two doors, partitioning it into four rooms and adding 
an attic . 108 In Minnesota, also, cabins were of logs or rough 
boards, the furniture rarely including more than a bed or two, a 
table, sometimes chairs or stools . 109 Throughout these states in 
the Old Northwest the usual pattern was, first, to build cabins of 
unhewn logs, then of hewn logs, and still later to build frame 
houses and use the old cabins for outbuildings . 110 

This same sort of dwelling — one-room log cabins, twelve feet 
by twelve, sometimes sixteen by eighteen, with clapboard roof, 
puncheon floor, a loft reached by a ladder, an improvised door, 
and a window covered with oiled paper or cloth — was used in the 

107 Beveridge, II, 200. John Regan, in The Emigrant's Guide to the Western States of 
America (2d ed.; Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd [1852?], pp. 300-309), describes in some 
detail the processes used in Illinois in constructing sod houses (then still occasionally 
used), and log houses. His story of a raising bee (pp. 309-16) is also interesting. 

IoR Anna Howard Shaw, The Story of a Pioneer (New York: Harper & Bros., 1915), 
PP* 29-33. 

109 Humphrey, pp. 13, 16-17, 19. 

110 Joseph Shafer, A History of Agriculture in Wisconsin (Madison: State Historical 
Society of Wisconsin, 1922), pp. 77-79. 

It is DanhoPs opinion that on the prairies board shanties were more easily erected 
and desirable than log cabins, though cabins, sod houses, and even tents were sometimes 
used. Cabins could be built for from $25 to $100; four-room cottages (perhaps the most 
common) for from $245 to $450. On the Illinois prairie, materials for small two-room 
houses could be purchased for as little as $150, and for larger houses might cost up to 
$1,000 (Clarence H. Danhof, “Farm-making Costs and the ‘Safety-Valve’ : 1850-1860,” 
Journal of Political Economy , XLIX [1941], 317-60). 

A good impression of housing in Wisconsin may be obtained from Hamlin Garland’s 
The Trail Makers . 


pioneer regions in Iowa. 111 As the community grew, the homes 
became less primitive. Frame houses were built of native tim- 
ber, many with second rooms and some with half-story garrets 
with gable windows. In some cabins and houses there was furni- 
ture brought from the East; but usually split-bottomed chairs 
and homemade walnut or maple chests and bedsteads were the 
best the prairie could afford. 112 In the more remote communities, 
at least, settlers were dependent for light upon “grease dips” — 
twisted woolen rags fastened to a button sunk in a saucer of 
melted grease. 113 

On the western margin of this Frontier, housing was so vari- 
ous as to defy description — dugouts, sod houses, and cabins of 
all kinds. In such prairie states as Kansas and Nebraska, where 
there was less native wood for building, the first homes were 
dugouts or sod houses. Typically, the dugout would be an ex- 
cavation in the side of a hill, perhaps twelve by fourteen feet. 
In each corner was set a heavy forked timber; poles were laid 
upon these and across the four sides. Split logs or lumber was 
then laid upon the poles, upon which thick sods were placed to 
form a solid roof;sometimes a piece of canvas would be stretched 
beneath to form a ceiling. The floor might be of puncheons or of 
dirt pounded hard and covered with cornhusk mats. Sometimes 
side walls would be built up of sods, and sometimes there would 
be a log front. In later years the dugout might have an interior 
of rough, unplastered stone walls. 114 On the level prairie the sod 
house was more likely to be found than the dugout. This ‘sod- 
dy” had walls of sod piled up around a rectangular floor, fre- 
quently sunk below the ground level. The doors were of cloth or 

111 Irving B. Richman, Ioway to Iowa (Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 
1930, P* 178. 

113 MacBride, passim . 

113 Richman, p. 180. According to the Scientific American (II [i860], 208), lard was 
used to an “immense extent” as an illuminant in agricultural districts throughout the 
country. The simplest form of lamp was a saucer with a cloth laid in the edge of it for a 
wick; thousands of families used no other. 

Cf. Albert H. Sanford, The Story of Agriculture in the United States (Boston: D. C. 
Heath & Co., 1916), pp. 220-21. Beadle, in 1857, k> un d farmers around Omaha “living 
in a hole in the ground for want of time to build better dwellings,” and in Omaha one- 
room houses, fifteen feet square, rented for $25 a month (pp. 22, 36). 



hide, and the chimney was only an opening. The soddies were 
always small, and could be roofed by putting a sod covering over 
poles stretched across the walls. The furnishings, whether in 
dugout or soddy, were meager — perhaps a cast-iron cooking 
stove and a few other articles of metal cooking ware and a few 
pieces of crockery. 115 

Peculiar to this region was the “hay tent” — two rows of poles 
were set up, brought together at the top, and the sides thatched 
with prairie hay. The house was all roof and gable; the windows 
and doors were in the end. These first houses were replaced in a 
year or two by “shake” houses — shakes being rude boards split 
off from a 32-inch section of log. These frame buildings were 
cold, leaky, and meagerly furnished — sometimes a box for a 
table, a trunk or chest for wardrobe, and benches for chairs. The 
bed might be made of rough boards threaded with cords and 
covered with a mattress stuffed with hay. Quilts and aprons 
answered the purpose of doors and windows. Some of the cabins 
were papered with newspapers from the East. 116 

“The Englishman in Kansas,” T. H. Gladstone, recognized 
here a cycle of development quite similar to that already de- 
scribed for such states as Wisconsin: first the cabin of unhewn 
logs, at best plastered with mud, then improvements such as a 
chimney and a second floor; then another cabin to form the 
regulation “double cabin”; and finally a frame house. 117 The 
sheds occupied by John Brown and Jason Brown illustrate an 
early stage; they were open in front, the three sides formed of 
bundles of prairie hay pressed close between upright stakes, with 
a roof of poles covered with long shingles. On some such habita- 
tions the only roof was cotton sheeting. 118 One of the best houses 
in Kansas in 1 862, looked upon with admiration by all the neigh- 

xi s These soddies of the fifties were hastily built, temporary structures. The real 
“sod-house period” did not come until the settlement of the western part of Kansas 
and Nebraska, in the seventies and eighties. 

116 The houses of this region and period are well described by ’Dick, pp. 57-59, 69^70. 

T. H. Gladstone, The Englishman in Kansas (New York: Miller & Co., 1857), PP* 

118 Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown (Boston: Houghton Mifilin Co., 1910), p. 
1 12. , 



bors, was a one-room cabin of squared timbers, with an open 
fire and a single pot, but with glass window sashes opening up 
and down. There were no chairs, no china, no floor coverings; 
the table service was made up of tin plates, tin mugs, iron 
spoons, two-pronged forks, and a serviceable knife. The kitchen 
had a sturdy table and a set of shelves; the inhabitants sat on 
nail kegs and packing-boxes. The house was built 15 inches off 
the ground, the bottom joists bolted into posts. An iron ladder 
reached the upstairs sleeping-room by way of a square hole in 
the ceiling. 119 The best of beds in Kansas had only one sheet, of 
the cheapest muslin. As a rule the cooking stove was the only 
stove, and finding fuel for it was a problem; matches also were 
scarce. 120 

Utah . — Of the farms around Salt Lake City, Bancroft wrote: 

Between the houses of the poor and the rich there was little difference, 
except that one was of logs and the other of boards. Both seemed like mere 
enclosures in which to eat and sleep, and around neither was there any sign 
that the inmates took a pride in their homes 

The city itself wore a different aspect Most of the private houses 

were still of wood or adobe, some few only being of stone, and none pretentious 
as to architecture; but nearly all were surrounded with gardens in which fruit 
and shade trees were plentiful. Many of them were of the same pattern, 
barn-shaped, with wings and tiny casements, for glass was not yet manu- 
factured by the Mormons. A few of the better class were built on a founda- 
tion of sandstone, and somewhat in the shape of a bungalow, with trellised 
verandas, and low flat roofs supported by pillars. Those of the poor were 
small hut-like buildings, most of them one-storied, and some with several 
entrances . 121 

Mark Twain described Salt Lake City as “block after block of 
trim dwellings, built of ‘frame’ and sunburned brick — a great 
thriving orchard and garden behind every one of them.” 122 To 

IJ 9 Mrs. Adela Elizabeth Orpen, Memories of the Old Emigrant Days in Kansas , 1862- 
1865 (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, Ltd., 1926), pp. 1 5—1 7, 19, 37-38, 49. 

130 Mrs. D. M. Valentine, “Reminiscences of an American Mother on the Western 
Frontier,” Journal of American History , IV (1910), 77-84. 

131 Utah,??. 580-82. Remy and Brenchley wrote that the majority of the houses were 
adobe, generally in a simple style, frequently elegant, and always clean. Some were very 
large: Brigham Young’s was a comparative palace, 98 feet long and 40 feet wide, .of 
several kinds of stone. Still unfinished, it had already cost $30,000 (II, 193-94). 

133 Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain), Roughing It (New York: Harper & Bros., 
1903),!, 1 14. 



the carcasses into one of the kitchen buildings to dress them. Buddha 
commanded his followers not to eat meat, but the lamas rationalize 
their disobedience of his teachings by saying that meat is needed in 
this cold climate, and that it is not wrong for them to eat it if they 
do not see the killing. 

The climax of this trip, for both us and the lamas, was the magic 
show held that afternoon in the courtyard of the guest house. The 
lamas were expecting a lot, having already been mystified by Fred's 
tricks with a magnetized needle and a disappearing cigarette. 

The audience at the show consisted of about fifteen monks, a 
couple of Chinese-Moslem merchants passing through the district, 
and a very handsome Khalka woman, whose presence there alone cast 
some doubts on the seriousness of the monk's vows of celibacy. As 
Fred pulled brightly colored silks from empty boxes and snatched 
coins out of the air, they responded with exclamations of wild delight. 
No one in the audience had seen anything like it, and in broad day- 
light they had no sense of fear of the unknown. Their enthusiasm 
was intense. Dunguerbo was one reason for the great success. He 
outdid himself as an interpreter, enhancing the effect of each trick 
by being sure that the audience missed nothing. I wished I could 
understand everything he said; it would have been interesting to 
see how much he really grasped himself. 

If any trace of suspicion or hostility still remained, the show 
banished it, and when we left next morning, the lamas of Shapda-in 
Sume seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. As a farewell present 
they gave us a large package of dried grapes which they said had 
come all the way from Turkestan, over the Old Silk Road. 


California . — During the first years of San Francisco’s his- 
tory there had been several disastrous fires, followed by hasty 
rebuilding* Before 1860, however, improved fire departments 
and the extension of fire insurance gave the cautious more as- 
surance in the erection of better houses. During the fifties some 
houses were built of brick; but, because of the winter rains and 
summer fogs, brick structures did not seem altogether satis- 
factory. Later, when brick construction had been improved, the 
earthquake menace and the greater expense kept brick houses 
from becoming at all numerous.* 27 Mrs. Sutherland wrote that, 
seen from the sea, San Francisco’s dwellings were two- or three- 
story frame houses, some one-story. 128 As H. H. Bancroft de- 
scribed it: 

It was a straggling city, however, with its dumps and blotches of hills 
and hillocks, of bleak spots of vacancy and ugly cuts and raised lines. The 
architecture was no less patchy, for in the centre prison-like and graceful 
structures alternated, interspersed with frail wooden frames and zinc and 
corrugated iron walls, and occasionally the hull of some hauled-up vessel; 
while beyond rude cabins and ungainly super-imposed stories of lodging 
houses in neglected grounds varied with tasteful villas embowered in foliage, 
and curious houses perched high on square-cut mounds. For a time caution 
set the fashion for residences also of brick, but the winter rains, the summer 
fogs, and above all the cost and the startling admonition of earthquakes, 
soon created so general a preference for frame dwellings of all grades, as to 
make brick dwellings a rarity, and to place another mark of peculiarity upon 
the city. Wood affirmed its supremacy by yielding more readily to the grow- 
ing taste for elaborate ornamentation. The distribution of races in this cos- 
mopolitan settlement added to the many distinctive quarters raised by 
fashion, by branches of trade and manufacture, the most notable being the 
Hispano-American district along the southwestern slope of Telegraph Hill, 
adjoined by the French and Italian colonies southward, and the striking 
Chinatown, which was fast spreading along Dupont street its densely crowded 
and squalid interiors, relieved here and there by curious signs and facades 
in gold and green, and pouring forth files of strangely attired beings. 12 ** 

Ten years had passed since the beginning of the great boom, and 
rents and construction costs had had a chance to fall, but, when 

127 Bancroft California) VI, 777 n., 776 n.; and California inter Pocula (San Fran- 
cisco: History Co., 1888), p. 263. 

128 P. 8. 

I3 ? California , VI, 778-79. Mark Twain, in the early sixties, wrote that the “archi- 
tecture is mosdy old-fashioned, many streets are made up of decaying, smoke-grimed, 
wooden houses” {Roughing It) II, 150). 


H 3 

Captain Simpson was there in the middle of the year 1859, he 
thought the rents still very high. 130 

In Los Angeles most houses were of adobe, with walls three 
or four feet thick. The ground plan was rectangular, with 
patios and corridors a characteristic feature. Some had several 
rooms, but in all houses the architecture was simple; when the 
house was of two stories, the entrance to the second story was 
from the outside. Even hearths and chimneys were few, and 
smoke was carried out not by a chimney but by a pipe leading 
through the window or wall. Roofs were flat, usually covered 
with asphalt, but sometimes with tiles. Inner walls were white- 
washed, the furniture was scanty and plain; and the glassware 
and tableware of an inferior grade. 131 Adobes, scantily furnished 
and usually slovenly in appearance, were the commonest sort of 
houses throughout that part of the Southwest which had once 
been Spanish! 133 

In all the cities of California the American cookstove had been 
widely adopted. 133 San Francisco, in 1853, imported 80,000 
tons of coal, 134 but in Los Angeles “wood was the only regular 
fuel for many years, and people were accustomed to buy it in 
quantities and to pile it carefully in their yards. When it was 
more or less of a drug on the market, I paid as little as three dol- 
lars and a half a cord; in winter I had to pay more, but the price 
was never high.” 135 San Francisco was lighted with coal gas in 
1 854, 136 but it was probably some years later before gaslighting 
became at all common in the homes of the city. 

The mining regions . — Prior to the gold discoveries and migfa- 

P. 100. 

131 Newmark, pp. 112-14, 124; cf. also Remy and Brenchley, II, 475-76, and Render- 
dine, pp. 197-98. 

r 3 2 Cf. G. Douglass Brewerton, “Incidents of Travel in New Mexico,” Harper's Maga- 
zine , VIII (1854), 577”9^i Olmsted, Texas Journey , passim. 

133 Sutherland, p. 108. 

13 4 Frank Soul<6, John H. Gihon, and James Nisbet, The Annals of San Francisco 
(New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1855), p. 495. 

133 Newmark, p. 141. 

136 Soul6, Gihon, and Nisbet, p. 517 (in 1853, 170,000 cases of candles had been im- 
ported [p. 495]). 


tions of 1858-59 all the settlements and ranches in Colorado had 
been deserted except for a few scattered settlements of pioneer 
farmers, who lived in adobe houses with clay and gravel roofs, 
dirt floors, and whitewashed walls. Their furniture was scanty, 
and what there was of it was mostly crude and homemade — a 
board table and some stools and perhaps a tick filled with straw 
or corn shucks. 137 

The first house built in Denver following the discoveries was 
a cabin of round logs, roofed with earth, and supported by 
rough timbers. This was followed by others — a hundred and 
twenty-five or so — most of them with round logs, about eight 
feet high, chinked with blocks and mud, the roof frame of rough 
poles or split timber, covered with grass and that covered with 
about six inches of earth. There were no glass and no nails. 
Such houses were dark but warm, and in rain or snow very wet. 
In 1859 frame houses were being built. 138 Up to 1859 there had 
been no pane of glass or wooden board in Denver or its then 
twin-city Auraria, all the dwellings being of logs, without floors 
and with dirt roofs. In 1859 a sawmill was built about .thirty 
miles south of Denver, and for the first time frame houses could 
be built. 139 

By 1859, w hen Greeley, Villard, and Richardson 140 appeared 
on the scene, the population had grown to 1,000 and the number 
of buildings to 300. Nearly all the buildings were of hewn pine 
logs, and a third of them, built as speculations, were unfinished 
and roofless. Few had doors or glass windows, and only two or 
three had board floors. There were no chairs, and the furniture 
was usually made up of stools, a table, and pole bedsteads. 
Rough boxes served for cupboards and bureaus. The hearth 
and fireplace were of adobe, and the chimneys were of sticks and 

137 Hafen, pp. 93-97. 

138 Villard, Past and Present , pp. 13-15, 31. 

I 35 > The Rocky Mountain Directory and Colorado Gazetteer , for 1871 .... (Denver: 
S. S. Wallihan & Co., 1870), p. 257. 

Since boards were required for the construction of sluice boxes and other mining ap- 
paratus, the mining regions usually had sawmills almost from the beginning. 

* 4 ° Greeley, Recollections , p. 365, and Overland Journey , pp. 161 if.; Richardson, p. 
186; Villard, p. 13 1. 



mud. There were a few shingle roofs, but most of the roofs were 
logs spread with prairie grass and covered with earth. Late in 
1859 houses began to be built with windows, shingle roofs, 
floors and ceilings, and even with plastering. There were frame 
and even a few brick houses. 

Even in i860 most of the 4,000 inhabitants of Colorado were 
living in tents or in booths of pine boughs, and there was neither 
table nor chair in the diggings. 141 But in Denver the old log 
cabins were being boarded up with siding or displaced alto- 
gether by neat frame structures with board floors, glass windows, 
and shingle roofs. Painted houses were common in the city, al- 
though on the bank of the Platte immigrants were living in 
tents. 142 There were, in i860, some 350 frame houses, 140 log 
cabins, 9 brick houses, and a few of adobe. 143 Richardson’s 
house cost him $ 2 , 000 , including the cellar and kitchen, and 
“ 'all the modern improvements’ ” — and it was “better than 
any of our neighbors,” having “walls of upright boards, with 
cracks battened to keep out rain and dust; chief external fea- 
tures: a square, clapboarded front, three doors, three windows, 
and a stove-pipe protruding from the kitchen-roof.” There was 
no partition, no ceiling, and its furnishings consisted of a decrep- 
it desk, two dictionaries, a dozen works of travel, a bed, two 
chairs, three stools, a bench, a table, two revolvers, a musket, a 
bowie-knife, and three or four trunks and carpet sacks. 144 Rents 
were enormously inflated at first. A newly arrived family, in 
May of i860, rented a four-room house, built of rough boards, 
unpainted, and with most of its windows covered with muslin, 
for $85 a month. 145 None of the houses had lawns or flower gar- 
dens, and the sidewalks were only trails through mud. 146 

Other towns in the Colorado mining regions showed the same 
characteristics, as tents and crude shelters gave way to log 
houses and these to frame dwellings. Furniture remained 

141 Villard, Past and Present, p. 47. 143 Villard, Past and Present, p. 132. 

142 Hafen, pp. 145-46. 144 Richardson, pp. 295-96. 

Evelyn Bradley, “The Story of a Colorado Pioneer,” Colorado Magazine , II 
(1925), 50-55. 

J 4 6 Hafen, p. 144. 



scanty, although a few immigrants brought household furnish- 
ings with them. 147 

This same pattern can be found in Virginia City, Nevada, 
where by the end of i860 the tents, brush shelters, and crude 
shanties had been pretty largely replaced by board cabins. 148 In 
Carson City there were only a dozen frame houses in 1859, and 
it was customary to use white cotton cloth for partitions, since 
timber was scarce. 149 The governor’s residence, in the early 
sixties, was a white, frame, one-story house, with two small 
rooms. 130 

The California camps, having had their beginnings a decade 
earlier, looked more prosperous and more permanent than those 
of Colorado and Nevada. In Placerville, Simpson found “some 
pretty white cottages, with roses clambering up the porticoes, 
and gardens filled with vegetables and fruit-trees, being visible” 
in June, 1859. 151 Four years earlier, when the town’s population 
had been about 3,000, Remy and Brenchley had seen there 
“many good houses” constructed of brick and stone. 152 In the 
camps log and clapboard houses were replacing the tent and the 
brush hut, although some of these primitive dwellings were still 
in use. The interiors of the houses were furnished with home- 
made bed frames supporting a stretched canvas bed or a bolster 
of leaves and straw. A homemade table and sometimes a chest 
and a bench or blocks of wood for seats, a shelf, a broken mirror, 
and newspaper illustrations fastened to the wall made up the 
rest of the furnishings. A rude hearth of stones and mud, with 
a frying pan and pot, served for cooking and heating. 153 

Newest and most isolated of the mining regions were those- of 
the Pacific Northwest. There the characteristic dwelling was a 
log cabin, roofed with shakes or dirt. Green cowskins were often 

147 See Villard, Past and Present l , pp. 47, 136-39; Greeley, Overland Journey , pp. 166- 
67, 130, 310, 312; Bradley, pp. 52-53; Hafen, p. 148. 

148 L. B. Glasscock, The Big Bonanza (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1931), pp. 
71, 75; Shinn, p. 73. 

149 Simpson, p. 92; Clemens, Roughing It, 1, 173. 

z 5° Clemens, Roughing It, I, 172. r s 2 1, 19. 

*s x Simpson, p. 98. ^3 Bancroft, California , VI, 389. 



nailed to the floor in lieu of carpets. 154 The Oregon pioneer home 
was a simple cabin, usually of logs chinked with moss and mud, 
although there were a few built of baked mud bricks. The floors 
were earth, and the roofs of pine boughs with earth thrown over 
them. Window glass was only occasionally available, and, in- 
stead, cotton cloth or oiled undressed deerskins were stretched 
over the windows. Stoves were rare, and open fires were used 
for cooking. The furniture was handmade: the table was a 
large board hinged against the wall (table boards were often 
packed a hundred miles or more); and, if there were boards 
enough, bunks were built against the wall and filled with husks, 
over which blankets were spread. Nearly every family had pre- 
served its feather bed. Buffalo robes and bearskins were com- 
mon and were used to protect the bed against leaks in the roof. 
The settlers had brought with them tin dishes, forks, and 
spoons, and some had earthenware dishes which — as also wom- 
en’s clothing — had to be shipped from London. For lighting 
there was the open fire or wicks in cups of fish oil. In the mining 
regions, beginning with the 1861 rush, most houses were frames 
covered with muslin. They were without windows and had bags 
of flour or sand to protect the occupants against stray bullets. 
The first real cabins had cowskin rugs, books and papers, mir- 
rors and pictures. As the towns prospered, new buildings were 
built of sawed lumber or stone. 155 

j S4 William J. Trimble, The Mining Advance into the Inland Empire (“University of 
Wisconsin History Series,” Vol. III, No. 2 [Madison, 1914]), p. 382. 

, Fuller, pp. 278-81. 




The growth of a class of permanent “guests .” — Although the 
single-family home was still very much the rule in i860, an in- 
creasingly larger proportion of the population was living in 
hired rooms and eating purchased meals. There were, indeed, 
enough such people to give visitors from abroad the idea that 
nearly all Americans lived in hotels or boarding-houses; and the 
reader who draws his conclusions from such sources — and from 
the reports on tenement-house conditions — would probably be 
of the impression that there were few in the country any more 
who could or would maintain their own establishments. Our 
common sense tells us that this was far from true. Except in the 
larger cities there were few who did not have their own homes; 
and, as I have already pointed out, only a very small proportion 
of the population lived in these cities. The others — the boarders 
and lodgers — were important not in absolute numbers but as in- 
dicative of a trend which we cannot safely ignore. 1 

The growing tendency to live in lodgings is reflected in the 
history of the American hotel. Up to the building of the Tre- 
mont in Boston, in 1829, hotels had had no special facilities for 

1 As early as 1855 there were 14.7 persons to the dwelling in New York City, 9.3 in 
Boston, 8.9 in Albany, 7 .66 in Providence (with as many as 8.94 in some wards), 7.0 in 
Baltimore, and 6.5 in Philadelphia, although in the country as a whole 14 out of 15 
families lived in single-family dwellings (New York Association for Improving the Con- 
dition of the Poor, Sixteenth Annual Report, for the Year 1859 [N ew York: John F. 
Trow, i860]; Providence, City Registrar’s Office, Annual Report on the Births, Marriages 
and Deaths for the Year i860 [Providence: Knowles, Anthony & Co., 1861], p. 351); the 
New York City Inspector' s Report for i860: (pp. 202-3) tabulates the houses of the city by 
numbers of families living in each: 20,638 were single-family houses; 13,017 held 2 or 3 
families; 13,353 held 4 or more families, up to 87. See also U.S. Census Office, Eighth 
Census of the United States, i860: Population (Washington: Government Printing 
Office, 1864), p. xxvii, which gives the number of persons per dwelling for each state, 
ranging from 3.04 in California to 6.43 in Rhode Island. 




accommodating permanent lodgers; but, from that time on, all 
first-class houses had at least parlor-and-bedroom suites. Per- 
manent guests enjoyed advantages in rates, of course, over tran- 
sients. From New York 2 to San Francisco 3 fashionable people 
liked to live in hotels. Apparently it was a national character- 

Although I have no reason to believe that the “American 
plan” was a response to this characteristic of American life, cer- 
tainly it simplified matters for those guests — and they were the 
great majority — who found low rates more to be desired than 
the personal attention and deference Europeans preferred. Dur- 
ing the fifties the American plan was almost universal: for the 
payment of a fixed amount the guests received their room and 
meals, including service (but not including such extras as wine 
or laundry). The hotel’s meal service was so arranged that some 
meal was being served at almost any time of day. Typically, the 
breakfast was served from five o’clock in the morning until noon, 
dinner from one-thirty to three-thirty o’clock, “banquet” from 
five o’clock on, tea from six to eight o’clock, and supper from 
nine to twelve. 4 

Hotels in northern cities . — Modern hotel history begins with 
the Tremont. It had high ceilings and marble floors; the decora- 
tions were in the French mode, the halls and guestrooms car- 
peted, the windows curtained, and the furniture carved walnut. 
There were 10 large public rooms, the bar and lobby were sepa- 
rated for the first time in an American hotel, and there was a 
separate reading-room. There were 170 guestrooms, some single 
and some double, all with locks on the door and with soap. The 
hotel had 8 water closets, running (cold) water in the kitchen 
and laundry, and running (cold) water in 8 baths. The public 

2 Jefferson Williamson, The American Hotel: An Anecdotal History (New York: Al- 
fred A. Knopf, 1930), p. 9. 

3 Sutherland, p. 57. 

* Williamson, pp. 192 ff. Mackay indicates that a common program in the hotels was 
breakfast from eight to twelve o’clock, luncheon noon to two, dinner two to six, tea from 
six o’clock on, and supper until midnight. Mackay was impressed by the fact that there 
was nothing to keep the guest from eating all day, at no extra charge, if he liked (p. 




rooms were gas lighted, and the guestrooms had whale-oil 
lamps. 5 The Revere House, built in Boston in 1847, for many 
years enjoyed the first rank and best patronage of the country. 6 
The Parker House was built in 1854-56 on the old Mansion 
House site and in 1 860 was enlarged by an additional east wing. 7 
Another famous Boston hotel was the American House. 8 

The Astor House, in New York City, was built in 1836 at a 
cost of $400,000. It had 309 guestrooms and in the basement 
17 baths and 2 showers; it was the first to have water closets and 
running water above the first floor. In 1 844 it employed 60 wait- 
ers, 5 clerks, 21 laundresses, 5 manglers, 12 cooks, and 20 bell 
boys. 9 TheHoward, built in 1 839, was somewhat smaller and less 
grand than the Astor; by 1850 it had ceased to be a first-class 
hotel. 10 These were followed in New York by the Carlton House 
in 1840, the New York Hotel (the first with hall bathrooms and 
with private baths) in 1844, the Irving House in 1848, the Clar- 
endon about 1850, the Metropolitan in 1852, and the St. Nicho- 
las, Taylor’s International Hotel and Saloon, and the Prescott 
House, all in 1853. The Fifth Avenue Hotel, with 530 rooms, 
was built in 1859.” The St. Nicholas was for a time the largest 
and was luxuriously furnished; as rebuilt in 1856 it cost 
$2,000,000, making it the first “million-dollar” hotel, and had 500 
rooms.” The Fifth Avenue Hotel occupied eighteen city lots, 
and besides having a classic interior and exterior had note- 

5 Williamson, pp. 1 5 ff. 

6 Hiram Hitchcock, “The Hotels of America/’ One Hundred Years of American Com - 
merce , 1, 152. 

7 James W. Spring, Boston and the Barker House (Boston: Privately printed, 1927), 
PP* 13^-335 Hi- 42 * 

8 It is described by Isabella Bishop (pp. 99-103). Mrs. Bishop was particularly im- 
pressed by the fact that the drawing-rooms were heated by anthracite and by the fact 
that guests seldom drank anything stronger than water at table. 

Of her stay in Burlington, Vermont, Mrs. Bishop wrote: “Here, as at nearly every 
town, great and small, in the United States, there was an excellent hotel” (p. 327). 

9 Williamson, p. 34. 11 Ibid., pp. 44-45, 5 ^* 

10 Ibid., pp. 41-44. ” Ibid., pp. 45) S3- 


worthy details of construction. 13 In i860 it was, with Philadel- 
phia’s Continental, one of the two hotels in the country with a 
passenger elevator. 14 

In Philadelphia the American House was built in 1844, the 
Washington House in 1845, the Girard House in 1852, La Pierre 
(later La Fayette) in 1853, and the imposing Continental in 
i860. 13 

All these metropolitan hotels had rooms much larger than 
those of today. The New York hotels, from the beginning of the 
fifties, had some private baths as well as hall baths, and the 
same was probably true in Boston and Philadelphia at least. 
The baths were oak or pine boxes, lined with copper, lead, or 
zinc, and sometimes covered to preserve the heat. The first- 
class hotels were heated by fireplaces or parlor stoves in the suites 
and bedrooms, but heated bedrooms were not common in the 
less pretentious houses, where warming pans were still used. A 
few hotels just before i860 had steam heat on all floors, but I 
think none had steam-heated guestrooms. The annunciator sys- 

13 Hitchcock, p. 152. This seven-story hotel covered the whole of an irregular block 
on Madison and was built of white marble. Accounts differ as to the number of bed- 
rooms, some saying 500, some fewer; it had 8 large public parlors, 120 private parlors, 
and 100 baths. The dining-room, seating 600, was particularly handsome; its walls al- 
ternated pier glasses with windows, elegant chandeliers hung from the frescoed ceiling, 
which was supported by Corinthian columns. Among the hotel's facilities were billiard- 
rooms and chessrooms and reading-rooms. It was gas lighted and steam heated. (‘The 
Fifth Avenue Hotel,” Scientific American , I [July 2, 1859], 3; and “The Fifth Avenue 
Hotel, New York,” Harper's Weekly , III [October 1, 1859], 364, with pictures on pp. 
632-33). The Harper's Weekly article criticized the hotel for its fixed-price policy — all 
rooms, regardless of size or location, were subject to the same rate — and for its ornate 
furnishings — “the whole presenting about as handsome and comfortless an appearance 
as anyone need wish for.” 

14 “The Fifth Avenue Hotel,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper , IX (April 21, 
i860), 329; New York Herald , January 28, i860. Chicago’s Sherman House, opened in 
1861, also had one. 

^Williamson, pp. 46-47; Hitchcock, p. 152. The Continental was a six-story, 600- 
room building at Chestnut Street and Ninth, with 4 drawing-rooms and a capacity of 
1000. “This spacious Hotel is six stories high, but a vertical railway, on a new and sci- 
entific plan, has been contrived, which will take the inhabitants of the upper stories up 
and down without any of the fatigue of ascending or descending flights of stairs; so that 
should any delicate lady find no apartment on the lower floors, she need not feel con- 
cerned; she can sit in an easy chair and be wafted to her room nearer the stars” ( Godey's 
Lady's Book , LX [i860], 465). This elevator is more jokingly referred to in Vanity Fair , 
IY (1861), 148. 



tem for calling for service had been in use since the building of 
Boston’s Tremont. 16 

Such hotels as these did their best to satisfy their guests’ ap- 
petites. “According to a writer in Putnam's Magazine , French 
cuisine was dominant in all hotels in 1853, and all first-class 
hotels used French terms on their bills of fare, except the Astor 
house, which insisted on giving English names to all dishes 
‘capable of translation.’ ” 17 Some guests from abroad thought 
that the food was not particularly tasty, 18 but most of them were 
impressed with the large scale of operations and the variety of 
food offered at least. Some of them even included menus in 
their books. 

Weld reproduced a menu from Boston’s Revere House. 19 
Among the broiled meats were beefsteak, pork steaks, mutton 
chops, calf’s liver, sausages, ham, and squabs; fried meats in- 
cluded pig’s feet, veal and mutton kidneys, sausages, tripe, salt 
pork, and hashed meat; there were codfish with pork, fish balls, 
hashed fish, fresh salmon, broiled mackerel, broiled smoked sal- 
mon, Digby herring, halibut, and perch-with-pork; eggs were 
served boiled, “skinned,” fried, scrambled, and “dropped” 
(poached); there were plain, parsley, onion, and ham omelets; 
stewed, fried, and baked potatoes; a variety of breads, including 
hot rolls, Graham rolls, Graham bread, brown bread, dry and 
“dipped” toast, hominy, fried Indian pudding, cracked-wheat 
bread, corncake, and griddle cake; and to drink there were tea, 
coffee, cocoa, chocolate, and iced milk. H. Reid described the 
variety of food offered at another Boston hotel, the American 
House: there were, following the soup and fish, six boiled meats, 
three cold meats, ten entrees, and six roasts, besides the des- 
serts, ices, beverages, and so on. His chief complaint was that 

16 Williamson, -passim . The Hon* Henry A. Murray has left us an interesting picture 
of the metropolitan hotels of the fifties, their lobbies and lounges, annunciators, bar- 
rooms, bridal chambers, and their general atmosphere of bustle and confusion (Lands 
oj the Slave and the Free [London: G. Routledge & Co., 1857], BP* 11 ff*)* 

17 Williamson, p. 214. 

18 Gratton ( 1 , 108) thought it “detestable.” 

19 On p. 31; Bunn (pp. 38-39) also devoted space to the Revere House menu. 



one had to eat in a public dining-room. 20 Since breakfast, din- 
ner, and supper were practically identical, 21 hotel guests should 
have been abundantly fed. 

For a room with four or five big meals the most celebrated 
hotels of the big cities charged $2.50 a day; in New Orleans one 
might have to pay $3. 00. Elsewhere throughout the country the 
customary charge in the first-class hotels was about $ 2 . 00 , and 
many eminently respectable hotels charged only from $1.00 to 
According to Nichols a room on the European plan (i.e., 
without meals) cost 50 or 75 cents and occasionally a little 
more. 23 

Cincinnati’s best-known hotel was the Burnet House (1850), 
sumptuously furnished, with 250 bedrooms, large drawing- 
rooms, spacious corridors, and other attractions. 24 It was fol- 
lowed in 1853 by the Spencer House. 25 Hotels in other Ohio 
cities were less grand. 26 

At a western hotel like Terre Haute’s Prairie House the travel- 
er found far less elegance, but there was plenty of food. As J. 
Richard Beste described his breakfast: 

30 Pp. 136-37. 

31 This was true until the nineties, according to Williamson (p. 202), The similarity 
of meals was not peculiar to metropolitan hotels but was true also of western inns (J. 
Richard Beste, The Wabash [London: Hurst & Blackett, 1855], II, 71), as well as of 
meals at home. 

22 Baxter, p. 34; Bunn, p. 38; Chambers, p. 183; Hancock, p. 141 (complains of the 
service, though approving the meals); Mackay, p. 32. A Selection from the Letters of 
John Ashton NichoIIs ([Manchester, England: Johnson & Rawson], 1862), p. 224; 
Nichols, II, 11-13; H. Reid, p. 237; James Robertson, A Few Months in America (Lon- 
don: Longmans & Co., 1 855), p. 153; Trollope, p. 560; Watkin, p. 9; cf. also Williamson, 
pp. 192 ff. Harper 1 s Weekly (I [May 30, 1857], 338) reported the decision of some of the 
leading New York hotels to raise their rates from $2.50 to $3 . 00 a day. 

Trollope wrote that, while all over the United States the charge was nearly always 
$2.50, monthly boarders were charged not more than half that amount. 

*3 Nichols, II, 13. 

Hitchcock, p. 152; Williamson, pp. 99-100. 

Williamson, p. 100. 

36 When J. Richard Beste stayed in a Sandusky hotel early in the fifties, he was given 
a large bedroom; but its walls were bare and whitewashed, and there was little furniture 
apart from the double beds. There were three large windows, but almost every pane 
was cracked or broken, the sashes did not fit the frame, and there were no weights or 
pulleys (I, 158-59)- 


There were ranged down the table and cut into slices, hot and cold bread of 
different sorts, including cornbread (a little of which was rather nice with 
plenty of molasses and butter), little seed cakes, pancakes and fritters, butter 
buried in large lumps of ice, molasses, preserves and blackberry syrup in 
large soup tureens. Besides these things, there were hot beefsteaks, roast 
and boiled chickens, and various sorts of cold meat. To drink, we had tea, 
coffee, and, occasionally, chocolate, with hot, cold, and iced milk, and white 
and brown sugar 

At dinner, there was roast beef always, and, in general, the following dishes: 
— chicken pie, veal pie, beefsteaks, roast lamb, veal and mutton cutlets, 
boiled ham, pigeons, roast veal or roast pork. As vegetables, we had gen- 
erally elderly peas and beans, hominy (a sort of dry bean resembling hari- 
cots [sic]), and potatoes. Once, we had sweet potatoes, which were red and 
tasted like common potatoes diseased; and, at another time, we had a vege- 
table called squash; and always boiled ears of green Indian corn. Several 
times, we had soup made of land turtles, which was good. Our sweets were 
generally custard pie (there are no tarts in the United States, everything 
there is “pie”), or sometimes cherry pie, squash pie, apple pie, and occasional- 
ly blackberry pie. Sometimes, too, we had stewed pears or roast apples. Then 
followed cheese and dessert; at which, latterly, there were large bowls of 
iced cream and watermelons, which they called “cholera bombshells”; and, in 
spite of their terrific name, they were eaten with avidity. Nuts and almonds 
were, also, always on the table. 

For such fare, with lodging and attendance, the charge was 
$5.00 a week. 27 

Chicago had 57 hotels in 1855, 8 of them “first class.” 28 The 
third Tremont Hotel, at Dearborn and Lake Streets, was a five- 
and-a-half-story brick building costing $75,000, which in 1 86 x 
was remodeled and enlarged on a grand scale. The Sherman 
House started as the City Hotel, built in 1836-37; it was remod- 
eled and a fourth and fifth story added in 1844. This was torn 
down in 1861 and a new Sherman House built at Randolph and 
Clark streets the same year. This Sherman House was a six- 
story marble building, which cost more than $200,000; the land 
cost another $150,000, and the furniture and appointments 
brought the total to nearly half a million. Several other hotels 

27 Ibid. 3 II, 3-4, 67-71. Terre Haute was then little more than a village, and it is not 
surprising that Beste found the Prairie House a little distressing. His particular griev- 
ances were the heat and the insects that came in when the windows were open (II, chap, 
iv, esp. pp. 80-84). 

28 A. C. Cole, p. 22. 


costing from $20,000 to $60,000 each were built during the 
fifties. 29 

The second Planters’ House, opened in St. Louis in 1841, was 
“the largest hotel west of the mountains” and equal to any in 
the East in furnishings and appointments. It had 215 guest- 
rooms, a classic ballroom, English-made china and cutlery, with 
the name of the house “fired on the China.” Its fame was due 
chiefly to its cuisine— in particular to its fried chicken, waffles, 
and candied sweet potatoes. 30 Ambitious projectors built the 
$200,000 Patee House in St. Joseph, Missouri, when the popula- 
tion of that town was less than a thousand. When the station 
for the new railroad was located some distance away, the hotel 
proved a financial failure. 31 

Caird thought Milwaukee’s Newhall House was little inferior 
in size, architecture, interior fittings, and arrangements to the 
Hotel de Louvre in Paris. 32 It was a brick hotel, with 276 guest- 
rooms, 25 suites, besides parlors, and 2 dining-rooms. It was 
beautifully furnished, with suites of rosewood and brocatelle 
and with frescoed walls. There were hot- and cold-water baths 
in some rooms at least, and gas in all rooms. It cost $160,000, 
with an additional $80,000 for furniture. 33 

Even a town like Dubuque could boast having 18 hotels and 
inns. In the single year 1856 there were erected the Lawrence 
Hotel Block, costing $90,000, and 5 other hotels costing from 

A rather complete history of Chicago's hotels during this period is to be found in 
Andreas, II, 501 ff. For an enthusiastic contemporary description of the Tremont see 
Lillian Foster, pp. 213-14. 

The great crowds of visitors during the fifties rendered the boarding-houses and hotels 
completely inadequate, and private homes and hotels with dormitory arrangements 
were pressed into service. These last, for J1.00 a day, offered accommodations with no 
privacy, ridden with insect pests, the parlor dirty, the food badly cooked and served on 
badly washed dishes. They were patronized by Irish and Scotch immigrants, French 
traders, Mexicans, and others (Pierce, II, 464-65). 

3 ° Hitchcock, p. 1 51 ; Herbert Asbury, Sucker's Progress (New York: Dodd, Mead & 
Co., 1938), p. 280. 

31 Arthur Chapman, The Pony Express (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1932), pp. 

P. 98. 

33 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, VII (May 21, 1859), 383-86. 


$14,000 to $30,000 each. 34 Davenport’s Burtis House had 150 
guestrooms in its five stories, and a dining-room thirty-nine by 
eighty-one feet. A steam pump conveyed running hot and cold 
water to all floors. In the basement were a laundry, a restau- 
rant, a billiard-room, a barroom, a smoking-room, a barber- 
shop, and bathrooms; on the first floor the rotunda, the dining- 
room, a reading-room, ladies’ parlors, and washrooms and pri- 
vate rooms. The hotel was steam heated throughout and gas 
lighted. There were several other hotels in the same city. 35 

Besides these there were the resort hotels, such as those at 
Niagara Falls and at Saratoga and along the Atlantic coast — 
Nahant’s Nahant House, which had 800 rooms and was gas 
lighted and steam heated, Cape May’s Mount Vernon, the first 
to have a bath (but not with running hot water) in every room, 
and many others. 36 

These northern hotels, the ones which travelers mentioned in 
their books and which have survived in history and in legend, 
were for the most part the leading hotels in the larger cities. For 
the others one must depend mostly upon his imagination. Bax- 
ter does refer to the small, wayside inns, with their dirty bar- 
rooms, ill-cooked meals, and scantily furnished rooms. 37 Prob- 
ably many were just that. 

Hotels in southern cities . — There were a few excellent hotels in 
the South. Baltimore had its City Hotel in 1829 and Eutaw 
House in 1835. 38 The Gilmore House, built in 1856, was a five- 
story brick hotel, costing $200,000, whose particular pride was a 
three-story ornamental iron veranda. 39 This and Barnum’s 
City Hotel, which was improved in 1859-60 and had a capacity 
of 500, put the old Eutaw and its 300 capacity in the shade. 40 

The Charleston Hotel, in Charleston, had a capacity of 300. 

34 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, XXXVII (1857), 443* 

35 Franc B. Wilkie, Davenport Past and Present (Davenport: Luse, Lane & Co., 1858), 
pp. 277-81. 

36 See below, pp. 346 ff. 37 Baxter, p. 34. 38 Williamson, p. 47. 

39 'The Gilmore House, Baltimore/* Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper , IX (May 
5, i860), 363-64. 

4° Appleton's Guide ; p. 252. 


Its competitor, the Mills House, was newer and more florid, with 
costly furniture and rich decorations. There was also the Pavil- 
ion Hotel, less pretentious but almost as large. 41 In New Or- 
leans the St. Louis was rebuilt in 1841, and the more famous St. 
Charles rebuilt after 1853. 42 Mobile’s well-known Battle House, 
built in 185a, had the distinction of being the first to cook break- 
fasts to order on a large scale. 43 

There can be no doubt that Washington, for a city of its size 
and importance, had the poorest hotel accommodations imagin- 
able. 44 All the public men whose duties forced them to live in 
Washington part of the year lived in boarding-houses. 45 Charles 
Francis Adams (the second of the name) described Washing- 
ton’s hotels as “unkempt barracks, spotted along the north side 
of Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the Treasury. 
They all had the third-rate. Southern slouchy-aspect and atmos- 
phere.” 46 The National Hotel was the largest. At Buchanan’s 
inaugural there had been an outbreak of disease there, popularly 
known as the “National Hotel Disease,” believed by some due 
to improper sewerage. In 1857 in the course of improvements 
the kitchen was demolished and re-equipped, and there were 
“new and admirably ventilated parlors.” After the improve- 
ments there was no return of the sickness. Willard’s Hotel was 
enlarged in 1858 and refurnished in a subdued fashion; its din- 

41 “Charleston, the Palmetto Ci ty,” Harper's Magazine , XV (1857), 18-19. 

42 Williamson, pp. 46, 97 ff.; Lillian Foster's description of the St. Charles (pp. 152- 
56) is glowing to the point of eulogy. 

43 Hitchcock, p. 1 52. 

44 Dicey wrote: “The grand hotels, too, which form a striking, if not an imposing 
feature in most American towns, are wanting in Washington. Even according to the 
American standard, there is not a decent hotel in the whole place. Willard’s and the 
National are two huge rambling barracks where some incredible number of beds could 
be run up; hut it is hard to say which is the shabbiest and dirtiest internally; and ex- 
ternally, neither of them have any pretensions to architectural grandeur. Of the lot, 
Willard’s is the best, on the principle that if you are to eat your peck of dirt, you may as 
well eat it in as picturesque a form as possible” (I, 95-96) . Cf. Mackie, pp. 10 ff. G. W. 
Bagby (“Washington City,” Atlantic Monthly, VII [1861], 5^*6) also ridiculed the Wash- 
ington hotels. 

45 See the biographies of supreme-court justices, congressmen, cabinet members, and 
other persons in public life. 

4 *P. 4 S. 


ing-room seated 800. Another prominent hotel was Brown’s. 47 
Olmsted had to pay $2.50 a day at Gadsby’s Hotel for a room 
which had a cracked ceiling and “variegated” walls. There were 
three yards of ragged and faded “quarter-ply” carpeting on the 
floor, the towel was a quarter-yard of toweling with a big hole in 
the middle, and there was no curtain over the dirty window, 
which rattled in its casements. The latch was broken, the chair 
broken, and the table greasy. Added to these annoyances, the 
room was cold and the service abominable. 48 

Northern guests in southern hotels were frequently dissatis- 
fied with the hotels and with the service. Olmsted’s travels in 
the South were a succession of hotels, some good and some bad. 
In Richmond he found the American a “capital” hotel, but at 
Norfolk the best hotel had been closed for lack of patronage, and 
the defects of the second-best he described at some length. The 
hotels at Gaston, North Carolina, and at Columbus, Alabama, 
were also bad. The Battle House, at Mobile, he thought an ex- 
cellent hotel, though its charges were too high (that it was kept 
by Boston men he was quick to point out). New Orleans’ St. 
Charles Hotel he thought stupendous, tasteless,ill-contrived, and 
inconvenient. The hotel at Nachitoches, Louisiana, was very 
good; but at Washington, in the same state, the hotel was bad 
again and none of the rooms private. The hotels in Texas, as 
might be expected on the Frontier, were without exception dirty 
and dilapidated, the food uneatable, and the service execrable. 
Typical was the “Railroad House” at Victoria, whose adver- 
tisements had made a great point of the number of sleeping- 
rooms. These proved to be made by cotton partitions, without 
doors, and Olmsted’s room was invaded from time to time dur- 
ing the night by people looking for candles, matches, and other 
things. The hotel at Woodville, Mississippi, was bad; and at 
Vicksburg there was no hotel except the wharf-boat (a boat used 

47 L. A. Gobright, Recollections of Men and Things at Washington (Philadelphia: 
Claxton, Remsen & HafFelfinger, 1869)^ p. 168; Mary J. Windle, Life in Washington 
(Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1859), pp. 376-77; William D. Haley (ed.), 
Philps * Washington Described (New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1861), pp. 207-8. 

48 Seaboard Slave States , pp. 2-5. 



for unloading, in the absence of a permanent wharf), of which 
the staterooms, saloon, and other rooms were used as a hotel . 49 

James Roberts Gilmore thus described the hotel in a North 
Carolina hamlet: 

Among the “peculiar institutions” of the South are its inns. I do not refer 
to the pinchbeck, imitation St. Nicholas establishments, which flourish in the 
larger cities, but to those home-made affairs, noted for hog and hominy, corn- 
cake and waffles, which crop out here and there in the smaller towns, the 
natural growth of Southern life and institutions. A model of this class is the 
one at Georgetown. Hog, hominy, and corn-cake for breakfast; waffles, hog, 
and hominy for dinner; and hog, hominy, and corn-cake for supper — and such 
corn-cake, baked in the ashes of the hearth, a plentiful supply of the graying 
condiment still clinging to it ! — is its never-varying bill of fare. I endured this 
fare for a day, how , has ever since been a mystery to me, but when night came 

my experiences were indescribable Scarcely had my head touched the 

pillow when I was besieged by an army of red-coated secessionists, who set 
upon me without mercy 

And the hotel 1 Would Shakespeare, had he known it, have written of 
taking one's ease at his inn? It was a long, framed building, two stories high, 
with a piazza extending across the side and a front door crowded as closely 
into one corner as the width of the joint would permit. Under the piazza, 
ranged along the wall, was a low bench, occupied by about forty tin wash- 
basins and water pails, and with coarse, dirty crash towels suspended on 
rollers above it. By the side of each of these hung a comb and brush. 50 

Robert Russell stayed at the best hotel at Natchez, whose ac- 
commodations he found indifferent, though the charges were as 
high as those of the St. Nicholas . 51 

Contrasting with these were the hotels of the Carolina re- 
sorts, the mountain retreats, the more than a dozen taverns and 
watering places of national reputation in Kentucky . 52 

In some of these southern hotels there was excellent food. 
Dallas Hall, in Cahaba, Alabama, for instance, served its guests 
soup, red snapper dressed with oysters, roast mutton, vege- 
tables, multitudes of stews and side dishes, puddings, pies, 

** Ibid* y pp. 49, 305-6, 315, 548, 566, 581, 624, 643; Texas Journey , pp. m-12, 250, 
259; Back Country , pp. 16-17, 125. 

50 Gilmore, pp. 15-16, 227-28. I have omitted a detailed description of the animal 

51 P. 258. 

53 See J. Winston Coleman, Jr., Stagecoach Days in the Bluegrass (Louisville: Stand- 
ard Press, 1935), chap, xi, as well as below, p. 347. 


jellies, boiled custards, cake., apples, nuts, coffee, and cheese. 
Most of the Alabama hotels charged $1.00 or $1.50 a day. 53 

In the light of the present reputation of ante bellum southern 
cooking, it is surprising to find that most visitors to the South 
found the hotel meals much worse than those of the North. 
Probably one reason for the apparent discrepancy is that the 
cooking which gave the South its reputation was that found only 
in the aristocratic southern homes; another reason is that the 
visitors were comparing the village inns of the South with the 
metropolitan hotels of the North. But even when all allowance 
is made, it does seem to be true that southern cooking needs to 
be deflated. Olmsted struck a hotel in Virginia where there was 
no fresh meat of any kind to vary the ham and eggs of the 
menu. 54 Gilmore’s description of the fare at Georgetown, South 
Carolina, has already been quoted. 55 At the Commercial Hotel 
in Vicksburg the waiter gave Olmsted an elaborate menu; but 
nothing on the list could be obtained from the kitchen, and he 
had to put up with “grimy bacon, and greasy cabbage/' 56 At all 
the inns in western Louisiana and in Texas the meals were salt 
pork, corn bread, sometimes fresh pork and sweet potatoes, and 
bad coffee. At one such inn he was charged $1.25. In frontier 
Texas Olmsted found hotel food hard going. At Austin’s three 
“hotels" the only thing worse than the food was the service; and 
at Lavacca there was nothing eatable on the table except stale 
corn bread — “everything else drenched in bad melted butter" — 
and there was no milk. The charge was JS1.00 a night, for man 
and horse. 57 

53 Boyd, pp. 72, 1 14. At Montgomery the American Hotel charged $1.25 a day, 
$6 . 00 a week, or $18.00 a month; single meals were 50 cents. The Rialto House charged 
$1.50 a day. At Tuskegee, Brewer's Hotel charged $12.50 a month for board, without 
lodging. The resort hotel at Ligon Springs charged 75 cents a day for board, $4.00 a 
week, or $14.00 a month (p. 224). Fayette House, Lexington, Kentucky, charged 25 
cents for meals, 25 cents for lodging (advertisement in the Lexington Observer and Re- 
porter, April 16, 1859). 

54 Seaboard Slave States , pp. 74-75. 

33 Above, p. 159. 

56 Back Country , p. 126 (the menu is given on p. 127). 

37 Texas Journey , pp. 60-61, m-12, 250. 


The frontier taverns . — In the West, except for the hotels of 
the larger towns, the taverns were rough-and-tumble affairs, log 
or frame. Frequently travelers had to seek shelter at any house 
they came to. They encountered all sorts of accommodations: 
the early settlers were poor, and their home life and surround- 
ings reflected their poverty. Travelers had to share rooms and 
even beds; clean linen was rare, and the beds liable to be in- 
habited by insects of various sorts. The meals varied, depend- 
ing on the hosts and on what food supplies were available. When 
there were taverns, they served not only as places for travelers 
to stay but as public gathering places, theaters, and halls for 
banquets or for dancing. 58 

On the edge of the Old Northwest the familiar double log 
cabin — two rooms with a hallway between or with a doorway 
connecting — was a common form of tavern. The construction of 
the tavern was a community event, and all the settlers came to 
assist. Great care was exercised in selecting and cutting the 
trees. The floors were sometimes boards, sometimes puncheons, 
sometimes even earth. Roofing was composed of shakes or clap- 
boards. Wooden pins might be used instead of nails. If sawed 
lumber was not available for doors, “splints” or long clapboards, 
fastened to crosspieces, were used. The cracks of the walls were 
chinked with triangular pieces left from making the shakes and 
with clay, but even so the cracks were sufficient to provide plen- 
ty of ventilation. The hearth and the sides and back of the 
chimney were usually stone, but the upper portion of the chim- 
ney was frequently constructed of mud-covered sticks. 

Other taverns were built of sod, the inside plastered with 
mud or lined with flat pieces of sandstone or limestone. Some- 
times, even in the log taverns, there was no chimney — only a 
hole for the smoke to go through. Light came through the chim- 
ney, through a hole in the wall covered with oiled paper, or 
through small panes of glass — perhaps a sash of six lights, eight- 
by-ten. Until the kerosene lamp made its advent, light at night 
came from the fire, from tallow candles, or from an oil lamp. 

58 Milo M. Quaife, Chicago's Highways Old and New from Indian Trail to Motor Road 
(Chicago: D. F. Keller & Co., 1 923), pp. 168-80. 

i 62 


The latches were of the familiar wooden sort. Some had primi- 
tive winding stairways leading to low-ceilinged attics, but fre- 
quently the only means of access was a series of pins driven into 
the log wall or a ladder. These attics usually accommodated a 
person only on his hands and knees; and the floor was of rough 
boards or poles. Furniture was of the simplest, brought with the 
family or homemade on the spot; the tables were often of cleated 
puncheons on posts, or the door might be taken off and used; the 
bedstead was frequently supported by only one leg and the 
walls, and it was usually corded and but scantily covered; there 
were three-legged stools, and sometimes split-bottomed chairs. 
Two pins above the fireplace supported a mantel board; and all 
the cooking was done before thd open fire. Dishes were few, 
sometimes supplemented by home-made wooden dishes. 59 

By the fifties these primitive taverns had given way in some 
districts and were giving way in others to frame taverns, whose 
raising was still a community affair. Despite the abundance of 
timber, the ceilings in many of these inns were so low that per- 
sons of ordinary height could scarcely stand upright. Some tav- 
erns were built quite spaciously — twenty or thirty rooms or 
more. Often the second floor was a maze of rooms connected in 
a bewildering fashion. These later taverns of frame or even of 
brick were lighted by day with small windowpanes, by night 
with tallow candles in tin candleholders or sconces, whale-oil 
lamps, or the new kerosene lamps. Bathtubs were unknown. In 
winter there was no washing except of the hands and face, which 
required only a small basin at a wooden sink, soft soap, and a 
roller towel. Some taverns had clocks, others had none. Some 
were papered with eastern newspapers. Some had pictured 
newspapers — a special pride — but usually there were not enough 
dishes of any kind. “Nearly every tavern on the Milwaukee- 
Madison road harbored a glass case of mounted birds, and usual- 
ly among the specimens was a pair of passenger pigeons.” There 
were other natural-history specimens and curiosities. “On the 
bar were China match stands from which the frugal helped 

59 H. E. Cole, Stage Coach and Tavern Tales of the Old Northwest , ed. Louise Phelps 
Kellogg (Cleveland; Arthur H. Clark Co., 1930), pp. 87-98. 



themselves in anticipation of future smokes.” The floor of the 
barroom was usually covered with sawdust. Notched tissue pa- 
pers in various colors hung from the ceilings, and there were 
soaped sketches on frosted mirrors back of the bar. 6 ° 

The food one found at these taverns depended upon the land- 
lord and his wife and upon the foodstuffs they could obtain. 
Usually there was plenty to eat, but it was not varied or of very 
good quality; the service was poor and the culinary equipment 
meager. 61 At the Townsend House — a red-brick farmhouse in 
Indiana — Beste was served a good dinner on a white table- 
cloth. 62 Occasionally an enterprising landlord could provide his 
guests with wild game and fowl, fresh pork, fresh and salt fish, 
fresh fruit and vegetables, preserves, hominy, honey and maple 
syrup, and nuts; and perhaps even with soups, cottage cheese, 
dumplings, meat pies and pasties, and other delicacies. 63 

Country taverns in Illinois were usually two-story buildings 
with a long porch the length of the structure. Through its cen- 
ter was a hall that led into a large dining-room, and upon one 
side of the hall was a lady's parlor and on the other the office, 
usually referred to as the barroom. A stairway in the hall led 
to a number of sleeping-rooms upstairs. 64 Charges at these coun- 
try taverns were trifling. Lincoln and a companion once paid 75 
cents for supper, lodging, and breakfast, for the two of them, in- 
cluding feed and stabling for their horses. 65 

60 Reprinted by permission of the publishers, The Arthur H. Clark Company, from 
Harry E. Cole’s Stagecoach and Tavern Tales of the Old Northwest , pp. 107-16. Mrs. 
Cowell, between Chatham and Detroit, found that on the plains “now and then a wooden 
shanty is seen, in solitary state, bearing such a title as ‘The Hunger’s Home,’ ‘The Great 
Western Hotel,’ etc.” (Disher, p. 194). 

61 Quaife, pp. 173-75; see also C. B. Johnson, pp. 52-53. 

62 Beste, 1 , 316-18. According to Beste, the innkeeper was a hospitable farmer, reluc- 
tant to turn away strangers who knocked at his door, and forced to put up an inn sign to 
keep from being eaten out of house and home by persons seeking free meals and lodging. 
William E. Wilson ( The Wabash [New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1940], pp. 248- 
49) writes as if this were a common occurrence in such states as Indiana. If so, it helps 
explain why many “inns” were as primitive as they were. 

See the rather glowing account in H. E. Cole, pp. 21 1-22. 

64 C. B. Johnson, pp. 51-53. 

6s Beveridge, II, 255. 



Few hotels west of the Mississippi were sufficiently imposing 
to get into the books of the historians of the hotel. Exceptions 
were the Douglass House, built in Omaha in 1855, an d ^e more 
ornate Herndon, which followed it three years later. 66 For a 
time Saratoga, now a part of Omaha, used the steamboat 
“Washington City,” purchased for $15,000, for a hotel. 67 In 
Lawrence, Kansas, the St. Nicholas, which had been built in 
1854 of poles interwoven with hay, the sides banked with sod to 
a height of three or four feet and lined with cloth, 68 had soon 
been replaced. The Free State Hotel was destroyed in 1857 and 
replaced the same year by the Eldridge House, a four-story brick 
building, handsomely built and elegantly furnished, and said to 
have cost $80,000. 

T. H. Gladstone stayed at the “Temperance House” in Leav- 
enworth, a low-roofed wooden building with two rooms in front, 
others at the rear. His room was uncarpeted, drafty, the walls 
unpainted boards, the beds furnished only with shuck mat- 
tresses and dirty blankets. Three or four chairs and a small 
rickety table were the other furniture — there was no mirror or 
washstand. Behind the hotel was a board with a couple of tin 
basins filled with river water; a square foot of mirror with brush 
and comb attached by means of a string hung above them. At 
this hotel 

the host particularly prided himself on the powers of his cook, and the superi- 
ority of his table generally. “Step in, stranger; the crowd's going in to eat,” 
was my summons, soon after six o'clock, to breakfast; the same at half-past 
twelve for dinner; and at six in the evening for supper. These are fhe good 
hours kept generally by Western folk. I entered the dining-room, saw the 
table covered with breakfast fare, including the usual small dishes of meat and 
cakes and apple preserve. The “crowd” was standing around the table, each 
man with a hand upon the back of his chair. The female portion of the com- 
pany having been seated, a signal was given, and a simultaneous action en- 
sued. The movement of the chair with one hand, the seizure of the nearest 
small dish with the other, the sudden sitting down, and the commencement of 
a vigorous eating, were the work of a moment. In five- minutes the company 
had left the table for the gallery on the street front, the better for damp, 
Indian-corn bread eaten with molasses, sliced bacon cooked, apparently, in 
grease, and tea or coffee. Some few*, more fortunate or more quick to seize 

66 Williamson, p. 102. 

67 Beadle, p. 40. 

68 Dick, p. $8. 



opportunities, had obtained a piece of Johnny-cake, or some apple-sauce, or 
other delicacy from the smaller dishes, in addition. At dinner it was the same; 
and at each meal in about equal quantity. The next day the same, and so on 
every day. 6 ’ 

Horace Greeley found in Manhattan, Kansas, a three-story 
hotel, with limestone walls and black-walnut finishing. Still far- 
ther west in Kansas he encountered a tavern whose food supplies 
included two whisky barrels, two decanters, several glasses, 
three or four cans of pickled oysters, and two or three boxes of 
sardines; even bread was lacking. 70 

Denver's first hotel was the Denver House, a structure, sixty 
feet by thirty feet, of rough-hewn log walls and a slanting skele- 
ton roof covered with canvas. It had neither floor nor ceiling, 
and its partitions were canvas nailed on frames seven feet high. 
The front part was occupied by the bar and by a dozen gambling 
tables; then a space for taking meals; and behind this six 
sleeping apartments. Outside, there was a kitchen under can- 
vas. The hotel’s only furnishings were gambling and other ta- 
bles, benches, and chairs, all of rough boards. The bedsteads 
were of board, without mattresses or pillows. The only sanitary 
facilities were tin washbasins which the guests filled from bar- 
rels in the passageway and emptied on the floor when they had 
finished washing. 71 The El Dorado — another log building — was 
built in February, 1859, and the Pollack House in April. 72 By 
i860 there were eight hotels and seven boarding-houses. 73 In 
the winter of 1859-60 the “Denver House” was enlarged and 
renamed the “Elephant House,” offering food, drinks, shelter, 
and gambling facilities. 74 At the Broadwell House — a large 
wooden structure — Richardson enjoyed “tolerable accommoda- 
tions at Astor House prices.” 75 

69 Gladstone, pp. iji ff. 

7 ° Overland Journey, pp. 58 and 74. 

71 Villard, Memoirs of Henry Villard (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1904), I, 
123; Greeley, Overland Journey , pp. 162-63. 

7 2 Villard, Past and Present , pp. 15-16. 73 Ibid., p. 132. 

74 G. F. Willison, Here They Dug the Gold (New York: Brentano’s, 1931), p. 82. 

75 P. 297. 


In Salt Lake City the Salt Lake House, a large pent-roofed 
structure, offered fair accommodations at very moderate 
charges, 76 and there were other hotels. 77 In the winter of 1859- 
60 the most pretentious stopping place on the way between 
California and Nevada was the “Strawberry Hotel” at Straw- 
berry, just inside California. It was a large log house with an 
immense room with a fireplace. In the main room 300, and in 
the smaller room (less than twenty feet square) 40 or more, 
guests slept in their blankets on the floor. Guests dined on 
beans, potatoes, bread, and coffee, served in tin dishes. Virginia 
City, Nevada, had a canvas “hotel,” whose furniture, besides a 
bar, consisted of an old sluice box, a dozen tin cups, a pitcher, 
and a barrel of hard liquor. 78 

The first hotel in San Francisco after the gold rush was the 
Parker House in 1849, closely followed by the St. Francis and 
the Union Hotel. The Ward House was built in 1850, the Ori- 
ental (a four-story frame building) in 1851. The first brick hotel 
was the International, erected in 1851-52; the American Ex- 
change (1854) was a fireproof frame building and, with 130 
rooms, was the largest. These were followed by the Cosmopoli- 
tan in 1859, the Occidental in 1861, and the Lick House. The 
miners themselves preferred to patronize humbler houses — their 
favorite in the middle fifties was the “What Cheer House,” 
where a room (qot private) could be had for 50 cents. 79 In the 
mining towns the “hotels” were made of planks nailed together 
and were rather “ephemeral” in appearance. 80 

76 Bancroft, Utah> pp. 581-82. 

77 Kenderdine mentions the “Empire” and the “New World” (pp. 109-10). 

78 Glasscock, pp. 62 and 73. 

79 Williamson, pp. 85-91; see also Sutherland (p. 13) and Soule, Gihon, and Nisbet 
(pp. 647-52). According to the latter writers, the rates were fairly constant between 
1849 and 1854 at $2.oo-#io.oo a day, but apparently a few years later $2.00 was the 
more usual charge (cf. Sutherland). 

80 Sutherland, p. 81. The American House and the Hotel Frangaise, at Union (now 
Areata), California, and the Humboldt House, in Eureka, charged $9. 00 a week for 
board and lodging ($8.00 for board only), $1.50 a day, or $0.50 for single meals (adver- 
tisements in The Northern Californian [Union], November 30, 1859, reproduced in 
George R. Stewart, Jr., Bret Harte: Argonaut and Exile [Boston: Houghton Mifflin 
Co., I93i],facingp. 80). 



In the early fifties the only real hotel in Los Angeles was the 
Bella Union, a one-story adobe enlarged in 1858 to two stories. 
In 1856 two more hotels were built, the Lafayette Hotel on 
Main Street, and the United States. 81 In Santa Fe the United 
States Hotel was a long low adobe, with whitewashed walls and 
earthen floors. Its guests dined on a long, not very clean, pine 
table, sitting on wooden benches and using earthenware plates 
and ill-made cutlery. 82 


Clearly there were few whose incomes permitted them to live 
regularly in hotels, but there do appear to have been a consider- 
able number of people, both married and single, who lived in 
boarding-houses. 83 In such cities as New York these boarding- 
houses were likely to be mansions formerly occupied by the 
wealthy and left vacant by the removal of their owners to loca- 
tions farther from the downtown districts. 84 These mansions 

Sl Newmark, pp. 25-26; Charles Dwight Willard, History of Los Angeles City (Los 
Angeles: Kingsley-Bames & Neuner Co., 1901), p. 297. 

82 Brewerton, pp. 585-86. 

83 See “Wanted — a Boarding-House,” Harper s Weekly , I (October 10, 1857), 652, 
suggested by T. Butler Gunn’s The Physiology of New York Boarding Houses (New 
York: Mason Bros., 1857). 

It is interesting to see how many boarding-houses are listed in the metropolitan city 
directories. These listings are probably far from complete, but the total for Boston was 
122 (. Boston Almanac , i86o > p. 107), and the numbers in other cities correspondingly 
large: e.g., Directory of the Cities of Albany and Rensselaer , i860 (Albany: Adams, 
Sampson & Co., i860), pp. 146-47; Buffalo Directory , 1859 [Buffalo: E. R. Jewett], pp. 
314-15; Central New York Business Directory , 1861 (New York: Thomas Hutchinson, 
1861), pp. 45-46. The St. Louis Business Directory for the Years 1854.-5 ([St. Louis: 
Chambers & Knapp, 1854], pp. 216-17) lists nearly 150 boarding-houses; The Louisville 
City Directory and Business Mirror for 1858-9 ([Louisville: Hurd & Barrows], p. 475) 
lists 32; Cohen* s New Orleans Directory for 1855 ([New Orleans: Office of the Picayune , 
1855], p. 250) lists 12. There is no such concrete evidence for small towns, but it appears 
that they, too, had their boarding-houses. 

*4 Some of the textile mills in New England cities provided a conspicuous exception. 
Robert Everest wrote of Lawrence, Massachusetts, about 1855: “Fronting one side of 
a factory that I entered at Lawrence was a handsome and clean range of red brick 
houses, with green Venetians to the windows. In one of them that I was shown over, was 
a room which may serve as a sample of the rest. It was about fourteen feet square, and 
eight feet high, and in this were three beds, occupied, at night, by six of the factory girls, 
or young ladies, as I should better term them. The rooms, the beds, and bedding, ap- 
peared scrupulously clean. There was, besides, a parlour or saloon, and a dining-room, 



first gave way to boarding-houses; then, as the city encroached 
upon them still more intensively, the rooms were partitioned off, 
and the houses became tenant-houses. As long as they were oc- 
cupied as boarding-houses they were “a real blessing to the in- 
dustrious poor,” 85 providing convenient locations at moderate 
rents. There was a tendency, however, to let them fall into dis- 

Our customary informants, the visitors from abroad, for the 
most part lived in the best hotels, and few of them were able to 
be very specific about boarding-houses. One who did come into 
closer contact with the working classes was J. D. Burns. Ac- 
cording to him the boarding-house tables were well spread: tea 
and coffee for breakfast, in winter hot buckwheat cakes with 
butter and molasses, plain and fancy bread, fried potatoes, beef 
steaks, mutton and pork chops, ham, pickles, and preserved 
fruits. No meal lacked animal food, and fruit pies were an every- 
day dish. In some of the eastern “counties” pork and beans and 
pork and cabbage were common. 86 

Burns put the cost of board for a workingman (not including 
laundry, but apparently including lodging) at from $ 4.00 to 
$ 7.00 a week. 87 This was in 1865, when prices were higher than 
they had been before the war. Hancock, whose book was pub- 
lished in i860, put the charge for board at “respectable houses” 
at from $ 4.00 to $ 6 . 0 o; 88 and Olmsted told of a New Orleans 
workingman, paying $ 4.00 a week board in that city, who had 

common to all, on the ground floor. The landlady informed me that each lady paid for 
board, lodging, and washing i\ dollar ($s. i^d.) per week, to which the company, or 
owner of the factory, added 18 cents (gd.) more to insure the good treatment of their 
work people” (p. 27) ; see also Weld (pp. 50-53) for a description of the factory boarding- 
houses at Lowell. 

These carefully supervised boarding-houses for the young women employed in New 
England textile mills were becoming much less common by the fifties (cf. Norman J. 
Ware, The Industrial Worker , 1840-1860 [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1924], p. 
1 53)- 

85 New York Legislature, Assembly, Report of Select Committee Appointed To Exam- 
ine into the Condition of Tenant Houses in New-York and Brooklyn (“Documents of the 
Assembly of the State of New York,” No. 205 [80th sess., 1857]), pp. 11-12. 

*6P. 8. 

n Ibid. 88 P.84. 



paid only $3.00 in New York. 89 These are all higher than the 
rates reported to the i860 Census (see Appen. E, Tables 39 and 
40). The Massachusetts Bureau of Labor, from reports received 
from a number of sources, estimated the cost of board in Massa- 
chusetts in i860 as averaging $2.79 for men and $1.79 for wom- 
en. 90 In Chicago, in 1853, board and lodging for a single man 
varied from $2.25 to $3.00 a week. 91 Eugene Bandel reported 
that the price of board and lodging in San Bernardino, Cali- 
fornia, was $9.00 a week in June, 1859; 92 and in general the 
rates in the Far West seem to have been much higher than those 
in the East. 

Some idea of the cost of board in the South may be drawn 
from the estimated or actual cost of board to college students. 
At the University of Virginia, 1860-61, the cost of board for the 
year, not including room, laundry, or other expenses, was $130. 
At Hampden-Sydney the cost was $108, and at Randolph- 
Macon $120 A 3 Nashville Academy, in 1854, charged $75 for 
five months' board, but this included room, lights, fire, and 
laundry. 94 In Alabama the monthly cost of board at Howard 
College was $12, and at the University of Alabama, 1860-61, an 
estimated $13. 95 


Of the many restaurants in New York City, Delmonico’s was 
the one which achieved the most enduring fame, although there 
were others almost equally fashionable — Maillard's, Reefe's, the 

** Seaboard Slave States, pp. 587-88. The difference was ascribed to the fact that peo- 
ple in New Orleans lived more luxuriously. 

9 ° Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year t8yg, 
p. 81. 

91 Pierce, II, 464. 

92 P. 289. 

93 C. O. Johnson, “Higher Education in Virginia” (unpublished M.A.thesis, Depart- 
ment of Education, University of Chicago, 1921), dting college catalogues. 

94 Southern Business Directory and General Commercial Advertiser , 1854 (Charleston: 
Walker & James, 1854), p. 71. 

95 Boyd, pp. 140 and 152. 



Maison-Doree, the Casa Reilly. 96 The most ornate and pre- 
tentious was Taylor’s Saloon, which served mostly light refresh- 
ments and which, while more popular, lacked the prestige of 
such restaurants as Delmonico’s. 97 Quite another type was the 
House of Refreshment, kept by Daniel Sweeney, picturesquely 
described by Herbert Asbury. 98 

The ordinary restaurants of the fifties have vanished without 
a trace, although there were hundreds of them (including the 
quick lunches — a product of this decade), 99 and it was probably 
a very small town which did not have at least one. West of the 
Mississippi one was dependent upon the hospitality of settlers, 
unless one was traveling by stage and so could share the limited 
fare at the stage stations. Denver, by the latter part of the sum- 
mer of 1859, had several excellent eating-houses charging only 
75 cents a meal (not long before it had been $i.$o-$ 2 .$o ). 100 
Virginia City, Nevada, had nine restaurants by 1860-61, as well 
as eight hotels and boarding-houses; there the miners were de- 
manding, and getting, oysters and cavier and champagne. 101 In 
Los Angeles, Harris Newmark used to take his meals at La 
Rue’s restaurant. He paid $9.00 a week for three meals a day, 
dining in a mud-floored room, whose furniture consisted of a 
dozen cheap wooden tables, chairs, dirty tablecloths, and home- 
ly tableware. The flies were thick. 102 San Francisco had several 
first-class French restaurants by the early sixties. 103 


Tenement houses in New York . — The rapid growth in the urban 
population of industrial workers brought with it, as one result, a 
terrific pressure upon the housing available to that class. The 
resulting overcrowding, with great masses living in miserable 

96 See Batcheler, p. 52; Sala, I, 56-5 7; Henry A. Murray, p. 10. 

97 See Pairpont, p. 30; Batcheler, p. 52; Isabella Bishop, pp. 353-54. 

98 Sucker’s Progress, p. 189. 

99 Pierce, II, 464 n. 

100 Villard, Past and Present , p. 130. 103 P. 28. 

101 Glasscock, pp. 74-75. 

103 Sutherland, p. 63. 


tenements, cellars, and attics, was like nothing before or since 
in American history. 104 

The report of the select committee of the New York Assem- 
bly classified the tenement houses into three categories: those 
which had been aristocratic mansions, churches, or other build- 
ings originally intended for nonresi den rial use, built before the 
spread of the congested area; tenement houses erected in the 
rear of business buildings; and specially erected tenement build- 
ings. Those which had been mansions had been partitioned 
without regard to light or ventilation, and the houses were filled 
from cellar to garret. Entire blocks of buildings worn out in 

104 There is an abundance of data on tenement conditions in New York City, begin- 
ning with John H. Griscom, The Sanitary Condition of the Laboring Population of New 
York (New York: Harper & Bros., 1845), and C. E. Norton, “Dwellings and Schools for 
the Poor,” North American Review , LXXIV (185a), 464-89. Among official investiga- 
tions the Assembly report cited on p. 168 and the New York State, Legislature, Senate, 
Report of Selected Committee Appointed To Investigate the Health Department of the City 
of New York (“Documents of the Senate of the State of New York,” No. 49 [82d sess., 
1859]) contain much information. There is a number of books dealing directly or indi- 
rectly with the problem, among them J. A. Duganne, The Tenant-House (New York: 
Robert M. DeWitt, 1858); Charles Loring Brace, The Dangerous Classes of New York 
(New York: Wynkoop & Hallenback, 1872); and Samuel B. Halliday, The Lost and 
Found: Or Life among the Poor (New York: Blakeman & Mason, 1859). A review of 
Halliday’s book in the. Atlantic Monthly (V [i860], 119-21} also contains much informa- 
tion. The “semifictional” book of Solon Robinson, Hot Com (New York: DeWitt & 
Davenport, 1854) contains some vivid descriptions of conditions in Cow Bay, which was 
demolished in 1859 and the inhabitants driven out “like rats” ( Frank Leslie’s Illustrated 
Newspaper , IX [December 23, 1859], 5 °)* Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York 
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927) also contains some vivid descriptions. For the legal 
aspects see the two books by Lawrence Veiller, Tenement House Legislation in New York, 
1832-1900 (Albany: Brandow Printing Co., 1900) and Tenement House Reform in New 
York , 1834-1900 (New York: Evening Post, 1900). Information is also to be found in 
editorials in newspapers and the illustrated weeklies, in the city inspectors reports, and 
in reports of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor. 

As a result of the failure of official agencies to take effective action against slum con- 
ditions the Citizens’ Association of the city appointed a “Council of Hygiene and Public 
Health” which presented in 1865 a Report upon the Sanitary Condition of the City (New 
York, D. Appleton & Co.), based upon investigations made under the direction of the 
city’s leading physicians. That Report presents a detailed mass of evidence, including 
much about tenement-house conditions. A summary of the report in a more readable 
form is contained in Stephen Smith, The City That Was (New York: F. Allaben, 191 1). 

There is less information accessible on Boston tenements, but a Report of the Commit- 
tee on Internal Health is quoted in part in Norton (pp. 172-73).; see also Boston, Com- 
mittee on the Expediency of Providing Better Tenements for the Poor, Report (Boston: 
Eastburne Press, 1846). The problem in Providence is commented upon in the First 
Annual Report of the Superintendent of Health ( for the year ending July 1, 183 f) (Provi- 
dence: Knowles, Anthony, & Co., 1857). 



other service were let in hundreds of subdivided apartments at 
rates high enough to cover the subsequent abuse to the property 
and still provide a substantial return. These buildings were 
likely to be dilapidated, the walls oozing moisture, and the plas- 
ter falling off to lay bare the laths. In these apartments the 
rents ranged from $4.00 to $6.00 a month in front, and from 
$ 6 . 00 to $8.00 in the rear. Cellars were let; 105 and in one build- 
ing the first floor was used as a sailor's lodging-house, with bunks 
ranged one above the other. One church had been partitioned 
into 85 apartments, which were occupied by more than 100 
families — 310 persons. Its cellar occupants paid $3.00 a month; 
and sheds in the rear rented for $3.00 a month each. 

The tenement houses erected in the rear of business buildings 
were merely a “collection of mouldy walls. ” The buildings built 
for tenement houses were cheaply constructed for speculation,. 
They usually consisted of double buildings, the front having 
two suites on each floor, cellar to garret, with windows front and 
back. Bedrooms were dark, and there were closets in the center. 
The rear house was in the back yard, entered by an alley. Privies 
in many cases were below the dwelling-rooms, in the cellar or 
under the pavement, with the stench coming through the win- 
dows in hot weather. All had narrow, unlit passages and stairs. 
The usual rate for a room and a dark bedroom was from $5.00 to 
$ 6.50 a month. “Model” tenement houses were a little better 
designed as to ventilation and fire escapes; but they, too, had in- 
adequate drainage, water supply, and other facilities, and fre- 
quently failed to offer enough privacy. 

The committee found one “model” tenement having 96 
apartments [i.e., rooms?] which housed 146 families— 577 per- 
sons — with an average of 6 persons to a single ten-by-twelve 
room. 106 In one block there were 200 families, averaging 5 per- 

105 Sometimes the proprietor of a rooming-cellar furnished board. His food supply — 
the collections made by women and children whom he employed to beg for food — was 
placed on a common table; and, after the boarders who had paid a few cents daily had 
selected their food, those who paid less than two cents for board and sleeping space were 
entitled to the leftover fragments (Ware, pp. 15-17, cited by Cummings, pp. 79-80). 

106 A notable example of “model” tenements was Gotham Court, which the New 
York Evening Post described (August 20 } i 8 50) as a praiseworthy example’. This build- 



sons each, without ventilation, light, or water. Another tene- 
ment of 85 apartments housed 310 persons, with some rooms 
vacant. In the Seventeenth Ward there were 1,257 tenements, 
housing 10,123 families in 20,917 rooms: there were 35,954 
adults and 15,228 children — 31! persons to the house. There 
were 426 rear buildings, with from 4 to 45 families in each. In 
the Fourth Ward there were 1,139 houses, of which 452 were 
tenements, each having from 4 to 94 families. 

These conditions did not improve. In 1864, according to the 
report of the Citizens’ Association, there were 495,592 persons 
in New York City (then only Manhattan Island) living in tene- 
ments and cellars; there were 15,309 tenements, averaging more 
than 7 families each. Attics, stable lofts, cellars, and similar ac- 
commodations also housed a large part of the city’s population. 
“Far more than half the population of the city” was living in the 
worst sort of slums. The Association for Improving the Condi- 
tion of the Poor estimated that in 1859 New York City’s cellar 
population was 20,000, as compared with 29,000 in 1850. This 
decrease it accounted for by an increase in the tenement popu- 
lation. 107 Two miles on both sides of Fifth Avenue would con- 
tain 4 00 families, a single block of tenements 700 families. 108 

Tenement houses in other cities . — While tenement conditions 
in Brooklyn do not seem to have become serious by i860, hous- 
ing in Boston, Providence, and other industrial cities was little 
better than that of New York. The tenement-house problem, as 
distinguished from the housing problem in its broadest sense, 
was peculiar to the industrial cities. Overcrowding and inade- 
quate housing were problems confronting all the cities. Even in 
Charleston two-story brick tenements were coming into use. 109 

ing is described by Asbury {Gangs of New York , pp. 47-48) and in the report of the Citi- 
zens’ Association (pp. 49-55) as a particularly bad example of all the worst features of 
tenements, housing more than 1,000 persons. 

107 Annual Report , 1859. 

108 Atlantic Monthly , VI, 1 19-21. 

I0 « American Medical Association, Committee on Public Hygiene, p. 585. The same 
report comments on overcrowding in Louisville (pp. 614-15) and other cities, as early 
as 1849. 



Efforts at reform . — There were, from time to time, attempts to 
alleviate tenement-house conditions by the erection of buildings 
which would provide decent accommodations at a price the poor 
could afford to pay. These dwellings, in Boston and New York, 
met the problem for those who could become their tenants, 110 
but the projects were too small in scale to have any effect on the 
situation as a whole. Attempts at reform had accomplished al- 
most nothing. As a result of tenement conditions New York had 
the highest death rate of all American cities, nearly twice that of 
London, although the rate for the country at large was probably 
not more than half that of England. 111 


Immigration . — The immigrants who came to this country in 
such great numbers after 1845 to a very great degree stayed in 
the regions close to where they landed. Many of them had no 
money to get farther, and others preferred to stay where there 
were people from the same country, to whom they were drawn 
by ties of kinship, language, and associations. Those who had 
been farmers in Europe frequently found it easier to work as un- 
skilled laborers than to become farmers in the United States, 
where crops and conditions were so different; work was easiest to 
find in the cities of the Northeast, where expanding industry 
could absorb more and more labor. 

In these cities the rapid growth in the numbers of those in the 
poorest class of the population far outran the growth in housing 
accommodations. Had the immigration been halted for any 
length of time, a new “equilibrium” might have been reached; 
but, with immigration continuing, by the time new houses could 
be built the population had increased still more. It is to be re- 
membered, too, that these immigrants, who brought little with 
them and were paid low wages, could afford to pay only very 
small rents. Since expansion into the suburbs was impossible 

110 C. E. Norton, “Model Lodging Houses in Boston,” Atlantic Monthly , V (i$6o), 
673-80; see also New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, Thir- 
teenth Annual Report (1856), pp. 45-46, and subsequent reports. 

111 A. C. Cole, p. 182. 



because of the lack of rapid transportation, the overcrowding 
was inevitable. 1 " 

The servant problem . — One way of finding out why Americans 
so often lived in hotels and boarding-houses would be to find out 
what explanations were given at the time. It is interesting to 
see that at least six 113 of the two dozen Europeans who found 
this tendency on the part of the Americans of the fifties worthy 
of comment explained it as a result of the servant problem — an 
explanation which must have come from American informants. 
Two 114 of these six also thought that the high rents had some- 
thing to do with it. The high rents, of course, were simply a 
product of rapid urbanization — of demand outrunning supply in 

The servant-problem explanation was perhaps accepted a 
little too readily by these travelers from abroad, with their back- 
ground of a permanent servant class, content to work for low 
wages and to devote themselves obsequiously to their masters’ 
wishes. There had never been such a servant class in the United 
States. Domestic service had from the first been regarded as 
degrading, and servants had to be paid what were, for the time, 
high wages. Far from being obsequious, they retained their in- 
dependence; at times, indeed, they seemed overbearing. At the 
first opportunity they quit to work for themselves . 115 With im- 
migration, the Irish or German “servant” or “hired” girl was re- 
placing the native “help,” but the Irish girl frequently tried the 

112 It is true that urbanization would, have resulted in some overcrowding, even with- 
out the influx of immigrants, but I think it is unlikely that urbanization alone would 
have proceeded fast enough to produce tenement conditions. The relation between im- 
migration and overcrowding was recognized at the time (see, e.g., Boston City Council, 
Joint Special Committee on the Census of 1855, Report: Including the Report of the 
Censors , with Analytical and Sanitary Observations [Boston: Moore & Crosby, 1856]). 

113 Baxter, p. 90; Isabella Bishop, pp. 98-99; Hancock, pp. 26-27; Mackay, pp. 32- 
33; Amelia Murray, p. 165; Pairpont, pp. 26-27. 

1J 4 Pairpont and Mrs. Bishop. 

113 On this point see also Isabella Bishop, p. 357; Burns, pp. 81-84; Parker Gillmore, 
Prairie Farms and Prairie Folk (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1872), I, 199; Phillippo, 
pp. hi— 12; Pulszky, I, 62; and Rhys, p. 81. 

For an amusing treatment of the servant problem see the series of cartoons, “Miseries 
of Mistresses,” in Harper's Magazine , XIII (1856), 746-47 , and XIV (1857), 385-86. 


patience of her employers. 116 To those who could afford serv- 
ants, the servant problem seemed an important one. 117 Only 
the wealthy kept servants, and they but few, according to Euro- 
pean standards: 

Wealthy families of the East sometimes maintained more than one house 
servant, but the greater number counted themselves eminently respectable 
with cook, maid, and house girl all in one, and the pay was one or two dollars 
a week. Liveries .... persisted mainly in the very exclusive circles of Phila- 
delphia and New York, in Washington, and on the great plantations . 118 

While it is possible that some people who would have preferred 
to maintain their own homes, because of the servant problem 
lived instead at a boarding-house or hotel — while this is possible, 
it was nothing new and cannot have applied to any considerable 
proportion of the population. It is the sort of explanation — like 
high taxes, for instance — that someone, momentarily annoyed 
or disgusted and perhaps unaware of the real reasons for his 
mode of living, might give. 

Nevertheless, the servant problem, unimportant as an ex- 
planation of housing characteristics, is an interesting sidelight 
into American economic conditions and American ways of think- 
ing. Gratton believed the consensus in the United States was 
that the “help” were not very helpful. He was satisfied that, if 
they were well treated, the native Americans made the best 
servants even though they were independent, demanded time 
for their own uses, and failed to give notice when about to leave. 
There was never any bond of attachment between servant and 
family or any confidence of the family in their servants. The 
employers' consciousness of their own superiority, he thought, 
prevented any ease of manner between master and servant; 
there was less restraint when the servants were Irish, but the 

116 A. C. Cole, p. 169. Carl Sandburg ( Abraham Lincoln : The Prairie Years [New 
York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926], II, 274) mentions Mrs. Lincoln’s difficulties with 
her Irish girls. 

IX 7 See, e.g., Bayard Taylor’s letter to R. H. Stoddard, August 11, 1864 (Marie Han- 
sen-Taylor and Horace E. Scudder [eds.], Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor [5th ed.; 
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1895], II, 423). 

118 Dodd, Expansion and Conflict , p. 209. (The wages may be compared with those 
given below, and with Appen. B, Table 19.) Mrs. Bishop was surprised to find that in 
the largest houses in New York there were only two or three female servants (p. 357). 



Irish were untrained and not adapted to discipline* frequently- 
changing employers. Colored men were not employed as per- 
manent house servants in the North and East, but the extra at- 
tendants at parties were usually Negroes. The Negroes* Grat- 
ton wrote* were not so indifferent and independent as the native 
whites or so bustling and fidgety as the Irish. 

There were no housekeepers or ladies 5 maids; the lady of the 
house attended to the housekeeper’s duties* and the seamstress 
and chamber girl to those of the maid. Nursery governesses 
were unknown* and the ladies did much to assist their servants. 
“Ladies keeping houses in America are indeed little better than 
upper servants/ 5 Husbands invariably did the marketing* and 
the cooks did nothing aside from the actual preparation of the 
meals. When walking on the streets the servants were scarcely 
to be distinguished from their masters* and they used their em- 
ployers 5 homes for their own parties. The ordinary waiter re- 
ceived $25.00 a month* a cook $3.00 or $4.00 a week* and a seam- 
stress or chamber girl $2.00 or $2.50 a week. 119 

119 Gratton, I, chap. xv. Mrs. I. C. Duncan, in America as I Found It ([New York: 
Robert Carter & Bros., 1852], pp. 209-29), also discusses American servants at some 

Gratton’s statement about the employment of Negroes is confirmed by the Census 
returns: only 119 Negro men were employed as servants in Massachusetts (Massa- 
chusetts, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Abstract of the Census of Massachusetts , iS6o t 
from the Eighth United States Census [Boston: Wright & Potter, 1863], pp. 356-57). 

It is difficult to write with any assurance about servants’ wages over the country. 
Harper's Weekly in an editorial on May 9, 1857 (h 289-90) put the wage of a nurse or 
housemaid at $8.00 a month, of a cook at $ 10.00 a month. An article entitled “The New 
York Labor Market: Female House-Servants” in the same periodical for July 4, 1857 
( 1 , 418-19) stated that, despite Irish and German immigration, wages were higher, espe- 
cially in the cheaper grades, by about 25 per cent and up. In 1856 a maid-of-all-work 
could have been employed for $4.00, but the servants preferred work in the city. The 
rates quoted were: 

Maid of all work: Cooks : 

Veryraw.. $4. 00 a month Good $ 6.00 

Average 5.00 Extra 12.00-^16.00 

G 00 ^** 6.00-^7.00 Laundresses: 8.00- 10.00 


Good 6.00 

In Chicago in i860 seamstresses averaged $3.00 or $4.00 a week. Wages for domestics 
were never high, reaching only I1.50-I1.75 in 1858; in that year hotels paid $1.50 a 
week (Pierce, II, 154). Hancock, whose book was published in i860, said that general 
servants were scarce at less than $6. 00 a month, cooks at twice as much (p. 86) ; see also 
Appen. B, Table 19. 


In the South most of the house servants were slaves. I2P Coach- 
men, house servants, seamstresses, ladies' maids, cooks, barbers, 
and hairdressers were commonly purchasable, and occasionally 
mantua-makers and tailors. 121 In establishments where there 
were more than twenty slaves, at least one was set aside as a 
house servant, and the very young and the very old were usually 
engaged in the house. In some families the household retinue 
was large: a cook and her assistant, a uniformed butler, a per- 
sonal maid, a “boy” to serve the master, a nurse if there were 
children, a liveried coachman, a gardener, and a stableboy. 
Most genteel and middle-class families turned over the care of 
their children to Negro nurses. 122 

Slaves as house servants were the subject of frequent com- 
plaint. 123 Abbott left Mobile with the opinion that white girls 
were supplanting colored help in domestic service; 124 and it is 
certainly true that “destitute females” frequently resorted to 
domestic service, laundering, and sewing, usually at very small 
wages. 125 Olmsted reported that a Virginia plantation-owner 
hired Irish girls as housemaids, paying them $3.00 and $6.00 a 
month. An instance was told him of a woman in a southern city 
who had hired a slave as servant, but the slave had refused to 
perform some ordinary light duty — good service was to be ob- 
tained only by force or threat of force. He later visited a Georgia 
rice plantation, where he reported that the house servants were 
more intelligent, understanding, and better in performing their 
duties than any he had seen before. Their labor was light, and 

120 The male domestic servants in Charleston, in 1848, included 1,888 slaves, 9 freed 
Negroes, and 13 whites; the female domestics, 3,384 slaves, 28 freed Negroes, and xoo 
whites (J. L. Dawson and H. W. Saussure, Census of Charleston for 1848 [Charleston, 
1849], quoted in Phillips, American Negro Slavery , p. 403). 

121 Frederick Bancroft, Slave-trading in the Old South (Baltimore: J. H. Furst Co., 
1931)1 passim. 

122 Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 83 and 252-53. 

X2i Gratton, I, 257-58. 

124 P. 1 13. Hotels and other institutions requiring large retinues of servants hired 
white (usually Irish) servants, because of the amount of capital that would have had to 
be invested in slaves. The St. Charles Hotel is an instance (R. Russell, p. 254). 

125 Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 247. 



they were treated with more consideration than that usually 
given free domestics. 126 

In the West the demand for labor, relative to the supply, was 
even greater than in the rest of the country, and only the fact 
that there were few families of sufficient means to hire servants 
kept the problem from becoming acute. It was difficult to find 
good servants even in Indiana. 127 In Salt Lake City servants 
commanded wages of $30-^40 a month. 128 In Colorado it was 
next to impossible to find servants at any price, except Indian 
squaws. 129 In Benecia, California, maidservants, and employed 
women were getting from $25 to $40 a month and board in 
1859. 130 In Virginia City, Nevada, Chinese were employed for 
laundering, house service, cooking, and similar duties. 131 

Other reasons . — Of all the people who were not living in one- 
family homes, by far the largest part were those whom poverty 
compelled to live in the city slums. The simple explanation that 
the city populations were growing faster than housing accom- 
modations could be increased and that these people did not have 
sufficient earning power to avail themselves of better housing is 
enough to account for their hardship. But for those better off — 
the families who were living in boarding-houses — I think the 
“high-rent” and “servant-problem” lines of explanation are 
totally inadequate. They would not have hired domestic serv- 
ants anyway; and, as for the rents, it was not a question of the 
rent's being too high for them to pay so much as it was of its 
being higher than they were willing to pay. 

It seems to me that this is just one more illustration of the 
fact that the home and the pleasures of the home were coming to 
mean less and less to the urban population. They preferred liv- 
ing in boarding-houses to having their own homes but having 

126 Seaboard Slave States , pp. 99, 194, and 421. Olmsted reported servants’ wages 
(i.e.j hire paid for use of slaves) for housework at Austin, Texas, as from $7.00 to $10.00. 
The same labor in the North would have been paid only $4.00 ( Texas Journey , p. 120). 

Pulszky, II, 9. 129 Greeley, Recollections , p. 365. 

128 Burton, pp. 388-89. 130 Bandel, p. 301. 

131 Clemens, Roughing It> II, 129-30. Histories of California indicate that the Chi- 
nese were similarly employed in that state. 


less money left over to spend outside. There was a general spirit 
of restlessness, an unwillingness to tie themselves down, which 
was to become much more evident in the day of the motorcar 
and the apartment house. Then, as now, there were people who 
could find little pleasure in their work or in their homes, who 
thought that enjoyment was to be found in freedom from re- 
sponsibility and in purchased amusement. The difference is that 
in i860 there was only a small part of the population of whom 
that was true, while today it sometimes appears to be true of the 
greater part. 




Styles in men's clothing , — Much earlier in the century men’s 
clothing had lost its color and elaborateness. Among all classes 
it had become dark in color and simple in cut. Men had been 
slow to accept long trousers, but by the fifties the change was 
complete. Trousers were usually narrow, and among the more 
fashionable men striped trousers were the rule. Although the 
double-breasted coat of black broadcloth was becoming increas- 
ingly popular, the height of fashion for morning as well as for 
evening wear was a long coat — either the Prince Albert or frock 
coat or the cutaway (a short coat with long tails and large pock- 
ets in the tails). A more colorful note was struck by the waist- 
coats or vests, which were varicolored, frequently of the richest 
satins and velvets, brocaded or embroidered. Velvet was the 
favorite material, with figured cashmere next in popularity. The 
less foppish were more likely to wear white or cream-colored 
waistcoats or even white-poplin vests. The high stock was dis- 
appearing from use (except in Congress, where men still wore 
the stock, with a black dress coat and a black satin waistcoat), 
but collars were high, worn with flowing silk or muslin cravats. 
In the fifties there appeared a strange style of overcoat, hanging 
loose and full from the shoulder, reaching to the knees, closed 
with four buttons. Its sleeves were close to the top, open and 
full at the bottom. A high silk hat completed the daytime cos- 
tume of the well-dressed man. For evening, men wore a black 
costume, including the swallow-tailed coat. The tie was of 
bright soft silk, cut in ample proportions . 1 

1 Elisabeth McClellan, Historic Dress in America > 1800-1870 (Philadelphia: George 
W. Jacobs & Co., 1910), pp. 414, 422-23; Elizabeth Sage, Study of Costume (New York: 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), pp. 203-4. 

It is possible to exaggerate the dulness of men’s clothing in the fifties. Comparing it 



Styles for summer wear at seashore and in the country showed 
more variety. There were light-weight suits of alpaca, nankeen, 
or foulard in white; and men frequently wore entire suits of 
white linen. Others wore a dark coat and white flannel trousers, 
creased at the sides. The hat might be of straw, with turned-up 
brim and with ribbons hanging in the back. 2 

Women's fashions. — Women’s fashions were almost as various 
and as variable in the nineteenth as in the twentieth century, 3 
though probably fewer women tried to dress in conformity with 
them. By i860 mantles, burnooses with round and square 
hoods, and rached, tight sleeves were considered distingue , and 
silk hairnets with bangles of gold or silver braid were “all the 
rage.” 4 In the early fifties a popular mode was the velvet basque 
(a bodice with short skirt or tails below the waistline) worn with 
a silk skirt. Another novelty was the black-silk sacque, worn by 
both matrons and the more youthful: there were both close- 
fitting and loose styles, with wide sleeves set in low on the shoul- 
ders, trimmed with fringes, lace, and ribbon. Bodices were also 

with that of a few years earlier, Arthur H. Cole writes: “Before the Civil War, however, 
the outward appearance of American society, so to speak, had been transformed; indeed, 
the pendulum of change had swung to the other extreme. From a drabness which to the 
modern imagination would be depressing, style and production turned to a fancy, and 
to us an almost fantastic mood” {The American Wool Manufacture [Cambridge: Har- 
vard University Press, 1926], I, 298). Cole quotes S. N. D. North as writing: “The ten 
years ending i860 will always be remembered as a period when the styles and fabrics for 
men’s wear were of greater variety than ever before or since. Vests were made from 
brilliant patterned cassimeres, velvets, brocades, and silks, but rarely of the same mate- 
rial of the trousers. These last were plaids, checks, stripes, and mixtures, running large- 
ly to light and medium colors, and extravagant in pattern.” 

2 Sage, p. 204; cf. Hancock, p. 45. 

a There is a number of books dealing with feminine fashions of the period, most of 
them from the antiquarian point of view or for use in stage costuming. I have drawn 
material from McClellan, pp. 245-61; Sage, pp. 196-203; Oscar Fischel and Max von 
Boehn, Modes and Manners of the Nineteenth Century , trans. M. Edwardes (rev. and 
enl. ed., London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.), Ill, passim ; Katherine M. Lester, Historic 
Costume (Peoria, 111 .: Manual Arts Press, 1925), pp. 195-99. 

Agnes Brooks Young {Recurring Cycles of Fashion, iy 6 o-igjj [New York: Harper & 
Bros., 1937]) is rather more interesting than the usual run of histories of fashion, for two 
reasons: she is more concerned with the typical, street dress, and the book is given co- 
herence by an interesting theoretical framework (see esp. chap, vi, “The Bell-shaped 
Cycle 1830 through 1867”). 

4 Pierce, II, 459. 


fashionable. These were tight fitting and very snug at the 
waist, which was compressed by a corset. The bodice extended 
four to five inches below the waist and was decorated to match 
the skirt. The neck, if high, was finished with an embroidered 
collar, or a vestee of lace or embroidered lawn filled in the front 
— this was V-shaped or formed a square neck. Chemisettes and 
undersleeves were still being worn, more or less elaborate for 
different occasions. Sleeves had broadened at the elbow and 
were filled in with lace or embroidered undersleeves. These were 
often trimmed with ruffles to correspond with the skirt, and 
some were ruffled or puffed from shoulder to wrist. Skirts, 
meanwhile, had increased in length until they became “long 
dangling street sweepers.” 5 

An earlier fashion, which remained prominent in the styles 
throughout the fifties, was the use of flounces and ruffles. 
Flounces were extremely popular; on some skirts there were as 
many as five, the upper flounce being gathered in with the skirt 
at the waist. Gowns of thin material, such as organdy or tarla- 
tan, might have as many as twenty-five. Flounces were used 
wide and narrow; they might be plain, scalloped, fringed, pleat- 
ed, or otherwise decorated. Early in the decade the number of 
ruffles had increased until they covered the entire skirt. This 
made them extremely heavy, and it became necessary to find 
some means to hold them out. At the same time the skirt was 
growing wider, and by i860 had come to measure a full ten 
yards, without a corresponding increase in length. These were 
responsible for the coming-in again of the crinoline and the 
hoopskirt, so much associated in popular fancy with the styles of 
the period. 

The first step was to make petticoats with casings around 
them at intervals, into which canes of rateen or whalebone were 
run. 6 A parallel development was the use of crinoline — a stiff, 

5 The phrase is Arthur C. Cole’s (p. 165). Mrs. Cowell and Mrs. Bishop both com- 
mented on the fact that the dresses of the fashionable dragged in the street (Disher, pp. 
238-39; Isabella Bishop, p. 361). 

6 “In 1856 the underclothing of a lady of fashion consisted of long drawers trimmed 
with lace, a flannel petticoat, an underpetticoat three and a half yards wide, a petticoat 
wadded to the knees and stiffened in the upper part with whalebones inserted a hand- 



unpliable material, set around the lower edge of the underside of 
the skirt to keep it sufficiently propped out. The width varied 
from six to fifteen or more inches ; some women had entire petti- 
coats of crinoline. Others wore flounced and stiffened petti- 
coats of coarse muslin. This deep facing of crinoline (or of horse- 
hair “crin ,f ) was almost as heavy as the starched skirts, and 
style innovators turned to the hoopskirt. But crinolines, instead 
of being discarded, grew larger and larger, finally measuring ten 
yards in circumference. 

The use of cane or whalebone reinforcements gave way to 
such refinements as gutta-percha devices and wire frameworks ; 
and just before the middle of the decade the hoopskirt in its 
more familiar form came in, the typical skirt being made of 
graduated steel wires covered with a woven cotton netting held 
together by perpendicular strips of broad tape. The “correct” 
hoop consisted of four narrow steel hoops, each covered with 
tape and run into the muslin or calico petticoat. The one near- 
est the waist measured one and three-quarters yards in length, 
and the one at the lower edge two and a half yards. With the 
exception of the top hoop, the hoops did not meet in front, 
leaving a quarter-yard space. Steel hoops were on the market at 
five cents a hoop, 7 and by i860 steel and brass hoops had almost 
entirely superseded whalebone and rateen. 8 

While these elaborate styles continued into the sixties, 9 the 

breadth from one another, a white starched petticoat with three stiffly starched flounces, 
two muslin petticoats, and finally the dress” (Fischel and von Boehn, III, 46-47). 

7 A. C. Cole, p. 167. 

8 Eighth Census: Manufactures , pp. lxxxv-lxxxvi. 

9 McClellan notes a “ tendency for exaggeration” in the fashions prevailing at the 
end of the decade (p. 256). The whole trend of fashions during the period is explained 
by Young as one phase — the bell-shaped — of a recurring cycle. “In 1 852 it billowed out 
once more and rapidly developed the size which has made this period famous. At their 
widest these skirts measured as much as ten yards in circumference, and they were worn 
over hoops which were not infrequently as wide as their wearers were tall.” About 1854 
real hoops began to take the place of the innumerable petticoats and horsehair pads. 
The same tendency was observable in sleeves: in 1846 the bell sleeve first appeared; and 
that style continued typical for the rest of the cycle, reaching tremendous proportions in 
the early sixties. The characteristic neckline was neither high nor low; it was a circlet at 
the base of the neck, usually with a small turned-over collar attached. The typical head- 



ruffled dresses had by the end of the fifties given place to pan- 
eled skirts in which two materials, a plain and an embossed or 
brocaded fabric, were combined; and basques with postillion 
backs became the order of the day. Low necks and lace berthas, 
which had been made fashionable by Miss Lane (President 
Buchanan’s niece), were worn almost universally, either with 
open sleeves revealing inner ones of filling lace or with sleeves of 
the shortest possible form. The low neck with bertha was par- 
ticularly popular for evening wear. 

Washable materials — fine muslins (including India muslins, 
embroidered in colors), cambrics, and other white stuffs — were 
exceedingly popular. Silk was a general favorite, and even 
women of limited means considered their wardrobe incomplete 
without one silk dress for church, calls, and dress-up occasions. 
Among the more well-to-do, silks and satins were much used for 
out-of-door costumes. 

In summer, crepe shawls, embroidered and having heavy 
fringes, were used as wraps, as were squares of white net to imi- 
tate lace and wide-bordered black silk shawls. For cold weather 
mantles of soft cloth, astrakhan, or baby lamb were worn — 
those of cloth heavily braided or embroidered. Cashmere shawls 
and inexpensive imitations of them were frequently worn. 
Tunisian shawls, manufactured from silk refuse and usually 
worn in stripes of two colors, were worn in summer, and a very 
graceful wrap — the Algerian burnoose — was introduced and be- 
came a favorite for theater wear. This was made of a mixture of 
silk and goat’s hair, and the full-flowing lines of the Arab man- 
tle with a sort of hood finished with a tassel were not ungraceful 
even over a hoopskirt. 

In 1859 young ladies were wearing beaver hats with long 
ostrich feathers. But the fashionable shape for several years was 
a shallow crown and soft, wide, drooping brim. Another style, 
worn on top of a mass of hair, was a “ridiculous” hat, flat, small, 

gear was the familiar bonnet, revived in a new and more demure form (Agnes B. Young, 
pp, 81-86). 

The amount of dress material required by these styles is shown in Table 3 below, 
based on an estimate by Lucy Barton. 

TABLE 3 * 

Square Yards of Material Required for Costumes of the 
Well-To-Do in Various Years 

Article of Clothing 



Woman’s Costume 


Cotton or linen 


S 3 

3i t 


(4 ° z -) 








1 5 










.4 ■ 






Cotton or lisle 

(2.-3 oz). 

( 2-3 oz.) 

(1—2 oz.) 





Whalebone {yards ) 1 



Men’s Costume 

Underlinen and shirt 

4— C 




7 § 


Silk or velvet 

6 i 


Silk or lisle 

(2—3 oz.) 

(1 oz.) 


(4-6 02.) 

(2 02.) 

Shoes {boots): 





Beaver or felt 

I J 

* Source: Estimate prepared by Lucy Barton for Robert G. Albion, The Rise of New 
York Port ( 1815-1860 ) (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935), p. 417. The estimates 
for women’s clothing in 1855 seem high; certainly they can have no application to the 
costume of any large number of women, 


tip-tilted over the eyes, trimmed with a feather, and with long 
ribbon streamers down the back; this was covered with a veil 
reaching only to the nose. Others wore leghorn hats, with wide 
flopping brims, adorned with wreaths of wild flowers, roses, li- 
lacs, tulips, or with ostrich or marabout feathers. For winter 
wear, silk bonnets, covered with crepe-lisse, or of silk and 
blonde, trimmed with velvet flowers, were still fashionable. 

Shoes were of black kid, high-heeled and side-laced. Patent 
leather had been introduced, and some wore gray shoes in warm 
weather. Fancy stockings, gray with red clocks, for instance, are 
spoken of. 

Evening gloves were of half-length or, as often, reaching half- 
way to the elbow. Kid or silk gloves with backs embroidered in 
delicate silk, with now and then a jewel, were used. Gloves, fans, 
handkerchiefs, and other accessories were imported from foreign 

Styles in children's clothing .™ — Pantalets in the fifties were 
visible only on very small children and under very short skirts. 
Plaids and graduated stripes were very fashionable for both 
boys and girls. 

In the fifties boys under ten wore for dressy occasions suits of 
black velvet or velveteen, often with full, short trousers to the 
knee. After 1854 a Highland costume with kilts became popu- 
lar for boys of from about five to ten, and, of course, children of 
perhaps seven to fourteen were often dressed in sailor costumes. 
Older boys wore long pantaloons about as much as their fathers 
did, with short, round jackets to match. 

In the hoopskirt days (1855-65) little girls of seven and over 
wore hoopskirts, too, but the decline of pantalets was heralded 
at the same time. White lingerie blouses were worn very often 
by young girls. The fashion after 1 840 was to make girls’ dresses 
with low or half-low bodices, to be worn over guimpes of white 
muslin. Skirts were very full and often lined with crinoline or 
worn over crinoline petticoats, like those of their mothers. In- 
stead of a bodice, an arrangement of bretelles was often worn by 
little girls. From 1 835 to 1870 shoes of morocco or other leather, 

10 McClellan, pp. 312-20, 



with cloth tops (called gaiter boots or gaiters) were much worn. 
A general vogue was the sash of ribbon tied at the back with its 
long ends reaching to the end of the skirt. 

Bonnets and hats were equally popular for girls. Little coun- 
try girls were likely to wear sunbonnets of calico, stiffened with 
many rows of cording, in the summertime; in winter quilted 
hoods were substituted. Infant caps were small and close fitting 
and were trimmed with ruchings of lace and ribbon. 


Our ignorance of the subject . — Our first impression might well 
be that nothing should be easier to find out about than what 
people were wearing: Aren’t we, after all, more aware of peo- 
ple’s clothing than we are of, say, their food or their furniture ? 
The answer to this I have suggested in earlier chapters. It is 
just those things which are most obvious, most taken for grant- 
ed, that people have the least to say about. To be sure, a great 
deal has been written about the clothing of various periods, but 
almost all of it has been concerned with fashions — for our pur- 
poses a largely irrelevant topic. Production statistics can throw 
a great deal of light on food consumption; they would be much 
less useful as guides to clothing consumption even if we had 
reason to think they were fairly complete (such things as qual- 
ity, durability, and sectional differences are almost impossible 
to allow for). As it is, we know that in the fifties much of the 
clothing was homemade and so didn’t get into the production 
statistics at all. What we are most interested in is the ordinary 
wear of the ordinary person — what it was like and how much 
they had. About this contemporary observers had little to say. 
It is particularly difficult to learn very much about the clothing 
of by far the largest part of the population — the farmers and 
their families. 

Clothing is such an important part of consumption as to call 
for a rather extended treatment. I have tried to supplement 
what concrete information I could find — chiefly contemporary 
accounts, production data, and histories of the clothing indus- 
try — by drawing upon common knowledge and common sense. 



Nevertheless, the gaps are considerable, and some of my gen- 
eralizations are, I fear, too vague to be enlightening. The best I 
can do is to indicate where these gaps and these uncertainties 

The growth of the clothing industry . — The historian of the 
American wool manufacture, Arthur Harrison Cole, emphasizes 


The Growth of the American Wool Manufacture 

1837 i 







Woolen Mills 

Number of establishments . . 


I ,021 

i ,559 









Number of sets 

i >4 88 


Number of employees 

21 ,342 



Raw material consumed 
(millions of pounds) 

3 1 t 

Worsted Mills 

Number of establishmen ts . . 



Number of employees 





Raw material consumed 
(millions of pounds) 



* Source: A. H. Cole, I, 268. 

t Cole thinks 14,000,000 or 15,000,000 pounds would probably be closer to the fact than the 3 1,000,000 
pounds given in his original source. 

the tremendous growth in the factory production of woolen 
cloth between 1830 and 1870, a growth he explains as due to 
population changes (growth, westward movement, and urbani- 
zation), to improvements in transportation, and to the initiation 
of the worsted manufacture. Not only was the volume of out- 
put increasing, but it was growing in diversity. The early out- 
put had been largely black and colored broadcloth, and cassi- 
meres, satinets, flannels, and blankets, and such low-quality 
cloths as jeans, kerseys, and Negro-cloths, all in solid colors. 
Now, with the growth of the industry and with the improve- 
ments in its technical equipment, hastened by increasing pros- 



perity and by increasing differences in income and by the rise of 
the wholesale clothing industry, the whole nature of the indus- 
try was changing. The use of satinets, linseys, and similar tex- 
tiles was declining, and even broadcloths were losing out, while 
fancy cassimeres — which were both cheaper and fancier — were 
becoming more and more popular. The technical difficulties in 
making worsteds were only just overcome in 1 860, and compara- 
tively little was made for men’s clothing, most of it being im- 
ported. 11 

In most parts of the country, and especially in the North, 
spinning and weaving in the home had disappeared, and the pic- 
turesque garments of earlier days had been replaced by factory 
cottons and woolens. There was some domestic manufacturing 
in the South and West, but it seems not to have been very im- 
portant after the forties.” 

Technical improvements had not been limited to the manu- 
facture of cloth. The manufacture of sewing machines was be- 
coming a big business in itself; and as a result of its use the 
manufacture of ready-made clothing was rapidly expanding. 
During the fifties the output of the men’s clothing industry was 
increasing, while the number of establishments was decreasing 
— the result, according to the author of the Census report, of 
business combinations resulting from the use of the sewing ma- 
chine. 13 “The vast demand,” he wrote, “for ready-made ap- 
parel of moderate cost has developed an enormous and growing 
trade.” 14 In the West, Ohio’s commissioner of statistics was re- 
porting a notable increase in clothing manufacturing in that 

ir American woolen production was made up mostly of such goods as could be easily 
manufactured in large quantities. Large numbers of flannel blankets, of good quality, 
were being made, and flannel underwear and shirts were much worn. 

w A. H. Cole, I, 279-85; cf. V. S. Clark, I, 439. In New York State the domestic 
manufacture of fulled cloth declined from 2,918,000 yards in 1825 to 198,000 yards in 
1855; of flannel and other nonfulled woolens from 3,468,000 yards to 380,000 yards in 
the same period (A. H. Cole, I, 279). 

13 Eighth Census: Manufacture s 3 pp. lix-lx. Over the longer period 1849-69 the num- 
ber of establishments making ready-made men’s clothing increased from 4,278 to 9,705, 
while the value added was increasing from 122,581,451 to #67,595,752. 

Ibid., p. bdv. 



state, due, in his opinion, to the demand by boatmen and “emi- 
grants” for coarse clothing, to the presence in the cities of 
Hebrew merchants with capital, and to the use of the sewing 
machine; 15 in Chicago the wholesale and retail trade in ready- 
made clothing amounted to $ 2,500,000 a year. 16 

Again, though, I think we need to be on guard against exag- 
gerating the magnitude of the change. The rate of change was 
great, but the base small. It took the Civil War and the conse- 
quent demand for large quantities of men’s clothing in standard 
sizes and patterns (uniforms) to complete the transformation, 
and not until about 1870 were the button-holing and cutting 
machines perfected. In women’s clothing the shift to ready- 
made clothing came even later. As late as 1 880 the manufacture 
of women’s clothing was confined almost entirely to cloaks. 17 
The expansion of the woolen industry was providing women 
with more flannel for petticoats, and the increasing manufacture 
of worsteds was partly made up of delaines, the dominant wor- 
sted for women’s wear. But the changes in cloth manufacture, 
as well as those in ready-made clothing, had less effect upon 
women’s dress: to a much greater extent than men they were 
still wearing linsey-woolseys, flannels, and even homespuns. 

The clothing of the well-to-do northerner. — The wealthy man of 
i860 was even more likely to have his clothing made for him by 
his tailor than is the wealthy man of today. 18 D. W. Mitchell 
commented that the clothing of the men was loose and easy, 
with long waists and turned-down shirt collars. 19 The dress coat 
was little used, most men preferring frock coats or sacks. 20 Ar- 
thur Charles Cole, in discussing the sartorial characteristics of 
the fifties remarks that these loose-fitting, black frock coats, to 

1 * Annual Report for the Year i860 (Columbus: Richard Nevins, 1861), p. 226. 

16 Pierce, II, 109-10. 

17 Census of Manufactures, 191^ II, 187, quoted by A. H. Cole, 1 , 293. 

18 In the reports made to the i860 Census more than 100,000 persons gave their oc- 
cupation as “tailors and tailoresses.” They were fairly evenly distributed over the coun- 
try ( Population , pp. 676-77). 

19 Pp. 70-71. 

30 Ibid., p. 91. 


which the well-to-do and middle classes were so partial, were 
often seedy in appearance. 21 Rhys spoke of American men as 
wearing an ordinary broadcloth suit, which could scarcely be 
purchased for less than $yo; but Sam Cowell who, as a music- 
hall performer, had appearances to keep up, paid only $56 for a 
two-trouser suit and an overcoat in 1861. 22 

While the wealthy continued to patronize their tailors, there 
must have been an increasing temptation to those of more mod- 
erate means to buy their clothing ready-made. I have found no 
comment on the quality of the output of the clothing factories. 
I suspect that the fit, at least, was rather less good than that of 
today’s ready-made clothing. Still, the factory-made clothing 
was much cheaper than the tailor-made, and this was no small 
item. The increasing use of ready-made clothing cannot but 
have had as one result a certain measure of “standardization” in 
dress. Not since the Colonial period, it is true, had class dis- 
tinctions been very much reflected in dress; but in the fifties it 
was becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish by his clothing 
the laborer from the person of means, the employee from his em- 
ployer. Travelers from abroad were particularly struck by this. 
Baxter, who had his eye on the extravagance of Americans, re- 
ported, that, while the men of moderate income dressed in 
superfine broadcloth and white waistcoats, common workmen 
dressed in glossy black clothes even while at work. The Count- 
ess Pulszky wrote that “one gentlemen passes after the other, 
every one of them clad so exactly alike that they seem cast in 
one and the same mould.” Gratton found it difficult to tell 
house servants from their masters. 23 

As for the women, it is easier to discover what the fashions of 
the fifties were than to find out what women were actually wear- 
ing. We may be sure, of course, that women’s clothing showed 
more variety, more awareness of “style,” than did men’s cloth- 

31 Irrepressible Conflict , p. 168. 

32 Rhys, p. 127; Disher, p. 253; for other clothing prices see Appen. F. 

33 Baxter, pp. ioi~2; Pulszky, I, 60; Gratton, I, 266. 



ing. 24 In the fashionable circles of the city there was a steady 
gain in the influence of French styles, as set forth in Le Follet 
and profusely copied in Godey’s Lady's Book and other women's 
magazines. Parisian gowns and bonnets and American copies of 
them were conspicuously displayed by Broadway and Fifth 
Avenue strollers. 25 American women spent two or three times as 
much on dress as did Englishwomen/ 6 and their expenditures 
were much criticized at home and wondered at abroad. Of dress 
in i860 the historian McMaster wrote: 

The extravagance of the age was a favorite theme with the moralists. A 
fashionable lady, they would say, spends on the milliner, the mantua maker, 
the lace dealer a sum that would have supported a household of the same 
rank in Washington’s day. One dry-goods dealer advertises a lace scarf for 
fifteen hundred dollars; another a bridal dress for twelve hundred dollars. 
Bonnets are easily sold at two hundred dollars. Cashmeres cost .three hun- 
dred dollars and up and may be seen by dozens, any day, on Broadway. One 
hundred dollars is quite a moderate price for a silk gown. In a word, 
extravagance in dress has reached a height that would have astounded our 
prudent grandmothers. A thousand dollars a year is not thought too much 
to expend on dress by women pretending to be “in society .” 27 

24 The women’s clothing industry remained much smaller in scale than did the men’s 
clothing industry. There were about 4,000 manufacturers of men’s clothing (apart from 
manufacturers of shoes, hats, shirts, and other haberdashery) with annual outputs of 
$S°° an d over; but there were only 96 making cloaks, mantillas, etc., 14 making corsets, 
and 78 making hoopskirts ( Eighth Census : Manufactures , pp. lix-lx, lxxxv-lxxxviii) . 

On the other hand, 90,198 persons gave their occupations as “seamstresses” (60,254 
in the sixteen states I have grouped as “The North,” 28,068 in the South, and 1,876 in 
the Frontier), and 101,868 persons as “tailors and tailoresses” (88,383 in the North, 
11,733 in the South, and 1,822 in the Frontier) ( Eighth Census: Population , pp. 672-73, 

Dressmakers who went into the homes of their customers were paid only from 62^ 
cents to $1.00 a day (Ware, pp. 49-50). 

2 $A. C. Cole, pp. 164-65; cf. Sala: “Broadway is crowded with gay dresses and 
pretty faces. Oh! these charming wearers of fur mantles and Paris bonnets” quoted by 
Grace E. Thompson in Fischel and von Boehn, III, 20-21); see also McClellan, p. 285. 

26 A. C. Cole, p. 164. Mrs. Bishop reported seeing more beautiful “toilettes” on 
Broadway in one afternoon than in Hyde Park in a week. The ladies of New York, she 
thought, dressed beautifully, and in good taste; their costly silks and rich brocades 
swept the streets (Isabella Bishop, pp. 361-62). 

27 John Bach McMaster, A History of the People of the United States y from the Revolu- 
tion to the Civil War (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1913), VIII, 290. The prices seem 
to be taken from Watson’s Annals , II, 597-98. McMaster mentions as current the be- 
lief that one of the causes of the panic of 1 857 was the extravagant costumes of the wom- 
en, which consumed a hundred million yards of costly material (VIII, 302). 


And Harper s Weekly reprinted from the Boston Traveller's New 
York correspondence: 

The amount of dry goods sold during the festive season is a pretty good 
criterion of the state of the money market. It is safe to infer, therefore, that 
New York coffers are well furnished, for our ladies have been allowed more 
for dresses from the ioth ult. to the present date than at any corresponding 
period since 1851. For example, one firm in Broadway is said to have sold 
$20,000 worth of fine silks, satins, and velvets, not to mention shawls, mus- 
lins, and plainer articles within the period mentioned. I have seen one dress 
purchased at this house, which, with its trimmings, cost $4 55. It is of violet 
color moire of the richest quality sprigged with purple. The trimming con- 
sists of eleven narrow flounces covered with juipure of myrtle green, and 
embellished with a broad band of black velvet just above the hem. There is 
a pocket on each side half concealed by a ceinture of black velvet, the ends of 
which hang down in graceful folds like drapery. The details may seem to 
contrast too much with the other, but the general effect is elegant and grace- 
ful. Another dress, purchased at the same store, is of groseille colored silk, 
which cost $350. It is figured with small bouquets of flowers, and has nine 
narrow flounces, each edged with velvet. But the corsage is its most beautiful 
feature, ornamented, as it is, with a fichu berthe of tulle trimmed with 
blonde. 28 

The Countess Pulszky found a degree of uniformity in wom- 
en’s dress, as she had in men’s, but it was a uniformity of ex- 

No characteristical costumes mark here the different grades of society, 
which, in Eastern Europe, impress the foreigner at once with the varied 
occupations and habits of an old country. But here all have submitted to the 
rule of Paris fashion, despotically swaying over Western Europe and across 
the Atlantic; they all wear the uniform prescribed by English tailors and. 

French milliners The ladies wear the same bonnets and the same silk 

dresses and furs, only varied in colour, but equal in art, equal in adornment. 
There is no individual turn of mind impressed on the outward appearance, 
and therefore such an assembly bears a manufactured, thoroughly unartistical 
stamp, in singular contrast to the poetical beauty of the ladies. 

She wrote that American dress materials were gaudy and ex- 
pensive and that French and English silks were the habitual ap- 
parel of American ladies. 

We hardly met one lady in Broadway without light coloured rich silks, 
such as at Paris we are only wont to see at evening parties; and they wear 

28 Harper's Weekly , IV (January 28, i860), 55. 



plumed bonnets, with which they would look much better in elegant coaches 
along the alleys of a park than among the pedestrians of the dusty pavement of 
New York. 

They wore thin shoes, but their furs were “ample.” 39 

Mrs. Sam Cowell wrote in her journal in January, 1861, that 
on Broadway there was 

scarcely a lady to be seen without rich-looking furs, which could never be 
bought for less than $ 100 to $500. Cloaks, capes, pelisses of expensive velvets, 
silk and satin dresses trailing the spitten streets. Gold cords as trimmings, not 
only for bonnets, but forming seams of basques, etc. Feathers waving grace- 
fully, bracelets and chains flashing ostentatiously. 30 

William Baxter also noted the “excessive love of dress” and 
wrote that ladies incurred enormous bills to drapers for silks, 
satins, and India shawls. Captain Rhys's comment was similar: 
“Dress, I may remark, is in New York a most expensive luxury. 
.... A mild Lady’s bonnet is cheap at 20 dols.” 31 

The clothing of the working class in the North . — One is likely to 
be misled by too much attention to fashions or by giving too 
much weight to the impressions of foreign visitors, who came 
into contact mostly with the upper classes and to whom the 
clothing of laboring men and employed women seemed (in con- 
trast with the clothing of similar classes in Europe) only less ex- 
pensive imitations of the costumes of the wealthy. “Improve- 
ments in the matter of dress since 1830 were evident, but for the 
workaday world shirt sleeves, heavy brogan boots and shoes, 
and rough wool hats, were, of course, the rule.” 32 Mrs. Cowell, 
pointing out the contrasts of the great city, noted having seen on 
Broadway, in the evening gaslight, “wasted men in threadbare 
cloaks, women in cotton gowns, and fragments of shawls, and 
.... children in rags with swoln faces, and naked feet/’ 33 The 
reports of the various philanthropic agencies and the writings 
of contemporary reformers give the impression of anything but 
luxuriousness in the attire of the lower classes. 

29 Pulszky, I, So, S 6 . 

30 Disher, pp. 238-39. . 

31 Baxter, p. 96; Rhys, p. 127. 

32 Dodd, Expansion and Conflict, p. 208. 

33 Disher, pp. 238-39. 



Probably most of the women’s clothing and a good deal of the 
men’s was made in the home. Throughout the country the 
prices of Merrimac prints were from 1 1 to I2§- cents a yard; de- 
laines ranged in price from 15 to 25 cents, while satinets sold 
usually for around 75 cents a yard. 34 Average retail prices in 
Massachusetts for the period 1851-60 were iof cents a yard for 
calico, 19 for cambric and gingham, 26 for muslin, and 99 for 
silk. Similar average prices for men’s suit materials were: for 
broadcloth, $2.23; linsey-woolsey, 25 cents; and materials for 
work clothing, much cheaper — -jeans, 26 cents; denim, 14 cents. 
Men who bought their clothing ready-made paid from $1.7 6 to 
$8.80 for coats in 1859 (14.14 was a “low medium,” J6. 84 a 
“high medium”); J1.47-I4.02 for trousers ($2.34 was “medi- 
um”), and J1.36-J3.75 for vests (J1.96 “medium”). Overcoats, 
in 1857, sold for from J5.64 to J20.00, a medium price being 
Ji2-5o. 3S 

If we can judge from what Thoreau had to say about it, the 
members of the working class in Massachusetts needed to spend 
but little to secure clothing adequate to their needs; if they 
spent more it was because they were thinking of appearances. 
He wrote, in the early fifties : 

While one thick garment is, for most purposes, as good as three thin ones, 
and cheap clothing can be obtained at prices really to suit customers; while a 
thick coat can be bought for five dollars, which will last as many years, thick 
pantaloons for two dollars, cowhide boots for a dollar and a half a pair, a 
summer hat for a quarter of a dollar, and a winter cap for sixty-two and a 
half cents, or a better be made at home at a nominal cost, where is he so poor 
that, clad in such a suit, 0/ his own earning, there will not be found wise men 
to do him reverence 

The clothing of the northern farmers . — I have little positive 
knowledge about the clothing of the urban working class, and 
even less about that of the farmers. I think there is no doubt 
that the everyday costume of the typical farmer consisted of a 

34 Tenth Census , XX, 4-32. 

33 Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year 1885, 
passim , esp. pp. 353-442. 

36 Walden , p. 27. 



pair of jeans, or perhaps denim, pantaloons, probably factory- 
made because they were so cheap, and a rough work shirt, possi- 
bly made by his wife or daughter. With these he probably wore 
a suit of flannel underwear, cotton or woolen hose, stout bro- 
gans, and a rather battered wool hat. When it was too cold for 
shirt sleeves he put on a woolen jacket, and he must have had 
some sort of overcoat for the coldest days. I don't think he can 
have had many changes of clothing — perhaps two or three shirts 
and as many pairs of socks, rarely an extra pair of pantaloons. 
In a day when cleanliness was not taken too seriously he didn't 
need to worry about what to wear when his shirt or drawers be- 
came soiled. 

Whether this typical farmer had a Sunday suit and other 
“dress-up" clothing is sheer speculation. It must be remembered 
that most of these farmers lived in grinding poverty. I cannot 
believe that many farmers in that day did have anything better 
than work clothing. The few who did have a “good suit" must 
have made it last a good many years. 

Farm women made their own dresses from piece goods, most 
of them cheap cottons, and under them wore flannel petticoats 
or, in warm weather, cotton petticoats or chemises. Their stock- 
ings were also cotton, and their shoes more conspicuous for du- 
rability than for comfort or elegance. Many did without shoes 
in the summer. Children, except for the very smallest, were 
dressed much like their parents. 

The clothing of the southern planters . — The dress of the plant- 
ers and their families depended upon their social position, their 
location, their means, and their tastes. 

If the master was niggardly in the matter of dress for his slaves, he was also 
rather indifferent about his own clothes. It had long been a mark of distinc- 
tion in a gentleman of Virginia to dress in shabby or last year's suits; and 
what was good form in the Old Dominion was good form in the cotton coun- 
try. Nor were the women fastidious. Elegant silks and gay bonnets then, as 
always, delighted their hearts, but the tyranny of seasons and of fashions 
did not rule the plantations. In Washington, however, where Southerners 
were always on dress parade, at Saratoga, or at the Virginia springs, planters’ 
wives followed the Parisian styles, wore costly jewels, and drove handsome 
equipages. There the absentee mistress of even a small number of slaves 


was at her social best, and her dinners, her salons, her balls were “the 

In Charleston, Mobile, and New Orleans men of business, lawyers who 
owned country estates, and merchants whose names were known in New York 
and Boston, were more careful to maintain the fashion and dressed more like 
the Prince of Wales than was the custom on the plantations. After all, the 
democracy of Jefferson was waning, and in these centers the women generally 
dressed, much as they do today, to display the riches of their husbands; 
they were living advertisements of the family standing. [From “The Cotton 
Kingdom,” Volume 27, The Chronicles of America , copyright Yale University 
Press.] 37 

In the larger cities much attention was paid to dress. Weld 
noticed the popularity of scarlet shawls and mantles in Balti- 
more when he was there, and Olmsted wrote of Richmond: 

What is most remarkable in the appearance of the people of the better 
class, is their invariably high-dressed condition; look down the opposite side 
of the table, even at breakfast, and you will probably see thirty men drinking 
coffee, all in full funeral dress, not an easy coat amongst them. It is the same 
in the street, and the same with ladies as with gentlemen; silk and satin, 
under umbrellas, rustle along the side-walk, or skip across it between carriages 
and the shops, as if they were going to a dinner-party, at eleven o’clock in the 
morning. The last is only New York repeated, to be sure, but the gentlemen 
carry it further than in New York, and seem never to indulge in undress. 

Lillian Foster thought the ball dresses were more exquisitely 
beautiful at New Orleans than at any other place except Paris. 38 

In North Carolina, homespun, both cotton and woolen, which 
had been used in large quantities in the first half of the century, 
had by the forties been relegated to the poor whites and Ne- 
groes: Women’s dress and that of the male dandies was sensi- 
tive to changes in style. The average planter dressed more con- 
servatively. Usually he wore a white stock of silk, linen, or more 
often cotton, and his waistcoat for ordinary wear was of drab 
wool. His suit also was of dark woo], with a coat, which usually 
had a cutaway effect, of mildly contrasting material. Trousers 

37 Pp. 76-77. Catherine Cooper Hopley wrote that on plantations fifty miles north 
of Richmond much cotton and wool was spun at home, and sometimes even cloth manu- 
factured. Shoes even for white children were homemade (I, 227). 

38 Weld, p. 337; Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States, p. 50; Foster, p. 165. J. Milton 
Mackie also referred to the expensiveness of women’s clothing in New Orleans. In 
southern cities clothing was likely to be made by slaves and free Negroes. Charleston’s 
census of 1848 reported 24 slaves and 196 free Negresses as seamstresses, and only 125 
white women (cited by Phillips, American Negro Slavery \ p. 403). 



were loose and high waisted, and to prevent bagging they had a 
strap which was worn under the shoe. In the country there was 
less change from year to year, but fashions were not altogether 
disregarded . 39 

Minnie Clare Boyd notes that in Alabama the list of adver- 
tised dress goods included rich brocades, fancy plaid silks, plain 
pink, blue, and American delaines, colored and black English 
and French merinos, ginghams, and prints, at every price. The 
millinery store at Tuskegee advertised millinery and fancy 
goods from the best New York and Philadelphia houses. The 
men’s stores got their patterns from New York, in the finest 
materials and the most fashionable styles . 40 

In the Gulf states little attention was paid to fashion except 
in the cities. Olmsted, on a plantation in northern Mississippi, 
found the slaves spinning and weaving coarse cottons on primi- 
tive equipment and the mistress spinning in the living-room. 
All the everyday clothing, both for the white family and for its 
servants, was made on the plantation, and only a few “dress- 
up” clothes were bought . 41 

The clothing worn by the small planters varied all the way 
from that of the large planters to that of the “poor whites.” 
James Roberts Gilmore, who as a northerner found more to 
criticize than to approve, wrote of the fairly well-to-do small 
planters near the boundary between the Carolinas that their 
clothing was more uncouth and ill-fashioned than that of the 
New England farmers. Of one of them: * 

He wore a broadcloth coat of the fashion of some years ago, but his waist- 
coat and nether garments of the common, reddish homespun, were loose and 

3* G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 89-90-. 

40 Boyd, pp. iiq-ii. She estimates that a student at the University of Alabama 
would have spent for clothing, 1860-61, the following: two coats, $30.00; two pairs 
white pants, $15.00; eight pairs summer pants, $32.00; one winter jacket, $5.00; two 
summer jackets, $6.00; two vests, $.600; two caps, $4.00; twenty-four collars, $4.00; six 
pairs drawers, $4.50; one dozen socks, $3.50; eight pairs Berlin gloves, $2.80; six pairs 
shoes, $24.00; six handkerchiefs, $2.00; one pair suspenders, $0.75; and one necktie, 
$0.50 (p. 152). 

Such Southern newspapers as I have seen — e.g., the Lexington Observer and Reporter , 
the Louisville Courier , the Tri-Weekly Maysville Eagle — usually advertised fancy mil- 

41 Back Country , p. 141. 



ill-shaped, as if their owner did not waste thought on such trifles. His hat, 
as shockingly bad as Horace Greeley’s, had the inevitable broad brim, and fell 
over his face like a calash awning over a shop window. 

And of another, more prosperous than most of his neighbors: 
“He wore a slouched hat and a suit of the ordinary 'sheep’s grey/ 
cut in the “sack’ fashion, and hanging loosely about him.” Gil- 
more describes the clothing of the wife of a small planter of 
South Carolina: 

She wore a neat calico dress, fitting closely to the neck, and an apron of 
spotless white muslin. A little lace cap perched cosily on the back of her 
head, hiding a portion of her wavy, dark hair, and on her feet — a miracle, read- 
er, in one of her class — were stockings and shoes ! 42 

Her small boy and girl, and four slave children, were alike bare- 
headed, dressed in thick trousers and loose linsey shirts. 

The common people in rural Alabama wore chestnut-colored 
woolen jeans and snow-white homespun shirts and home-knit 
woolen suspenders; the women, homespun suits. 43 

The clothing of the poor whites . — The clothing of the “poor 
whites” was apparently infinitely varied, but it was meager, and 
all of it coarse and dirty. As might be expected, the few trav- 
elers who came into contact with them picked out some sam- 
ples. Gilmore, for instance, told of a South Carolina turpentine 

His coat, which was much too short in the waist and much too long in the 
skirts, was of the common reddish gray linsey, and his nether garments, which 
stopped just below the knees, were of the same material. From these down- 
wards, he wore only the covering that is said to have been the fashion in Para- 
dise before Adam took to fig-leaves. His hat had a rim broader than a political 
platform, and his skin a color half way between tobacco-juice and a tallow 

And of a girl in this class, “a soiled, greasy, graying linsey-wool- 
sey gown [was] apparently her only garment.” 44 Phillips writes 
of the clothing worn in the mountain coves: 

With a wool hat, a cotton or tow shirt, and jeans breaches upheld by a 
single “gallus,” a man was fully clad, though he might use coat and shoes 

42 Gilmore, pp. 183-84, 235, 279-82. 

43 Boyd, p. 1 12. 

44 Gilmore, pp. 166, 70. 



against winter’s chill. The cotton shifts and poke bonnets of the women, and 
their shapeless linsey-woolsey gowns varied not with the fashions of Paris or 
Philadelphia . 45 

The decline in the domestic manufacture of textiles had been 
least marked in the South. Victor S. Clark, in his history of 
manufacturing, writes that in the southern highlands the fac- 
tory had not yet intruded upon the older household economy. 
As recently as 1 876 country people in Tennessee still made home- 
made clothing in considerable quantities. Until 1865, he reports 
someone as saying, one-tenth of the citizens of those regions 
wore family manufactures. 46 Repeated instances of domestic in- 
dustry seem to indicate that this is far from being exaggerated. 
The use of homespun clothing in Virginia, the Carolinas, and 
Alabama, as reported in the books of Miss Hopley, Gilmore, and 
Miss Boyd, has already been mentioned. Emily P. Burke wrote 
that in the northern part of Georgia the people manufactured 
all their own clothing, except hats and sometimes shoes. They 
raised their own cotton, carded and spun it, and wove it by 
hand. Even the dyes were homemade. One woman showed her 
a roll of cloth which was entirely the product of her own labor, 
from the planting of the seed to the final processing of the 
cloth. 47 And Olmsted wrote that the fifty “cracker” members of 
a Georgia meeting-house congregation were most of them 
dressed in homespun, though “not so poor as they looked.” 48 

The clothing of the slaves . — Although the clothing of the field 
hands varied somewhat with their own enterprise, with the 
benevolence of their masters, and with climate and working 
conditions, generalization is not so difficult as for other groups 
in the population. 49 Dodd writes: 

[As for the children,] their clothing was like the annals of the poor, short 
and simple, merely a shirt which reached to the knees. Shoes and hats were 

4s Life and Labor, p. 342. 47 Burke, pp. 23, 209. 

46 Clark, I, 439. 48 Seaboard Slave States , p. 454. 

4 ? It seems wiser here, as in the case of the food and shelter furnished the slaves, to 
cite information easily available rather than to try to take account of the great differ- 
ences from plantation to plantation. For reports of the planters themselves see De Bow, 
Industrial Resources, IV, 177 (others in this work are summarized below); Be Bow's Re- 
view, XXIV (1858), 325; and Starnes, pp. 493 These may be balanced against the 



useless encumbrances for pickaninnies in winter as well as in summer. Older 
negroes received a new suit of clothes, two pairs of shoes, and a cheap hat each 
year, and at Christmas time a little liquor, some trinkets for the women, and 
a small sum of spending money. [From “The Cotton Kingdom/' Volume 27, 
The Chronicles of America, copyright Yale University Press.]* 0 

Gray, in his history of southern agriculture, generalizes by say- 
ing that the male slaves were furnished trousers of “osnaburgs” 
and two or three rough gingham shirts for summer and for win- 
ter a coat and trousers of mixed wool and cotton. They re- 
ceived one or two pairs of rough shoes each year. 51 

The advice given by the planters themselves, in De Bow’s 
Industrial Resources of the South and West , is interesting, though 
probably more liberal than the actual practice of the planters as 
a group. One Mississippi planter recommended four full suits of 
clothing and two pairs of shoes a year. Women and girls should 
be given a calico dress and two handkerchiefs extra. Another 
correspondent suggested that not fewer than three suits of 
clothes should be given the men each year. Children used up at 
least four suits and would use more except for home mending. 
He suggested also that each hand be given, as a protection 
against dew, a long apron with sleeves, made of cotton osna- 
burgs coated with linseed oil. A “small farmer” pointed out 
that the clothing requirements necessarily varied with use and 
care. His own rule was to give for winter a linsey suit, one shirt 
of the best toweling, one hat, one pair of shoes, and one good 
blanket (of the sort costing from $2 .00 to $2 .50) every other 

reports of the slaves themselves, as those of Douglass, p. ioi; and Washington, pp. n- 

Among biographies and memoirs, the following may be cited: Avirett, pp. 58-59; 
Mallard, p. 32; Smedes, pp. 34-38, 47; Robert McElroy, Jeferson Davis (New York: 
Harper & Bros., 1937), I, 39-40. For travelers' accounts see Olmsted, Seaboard Slave 
States , pp. 1 12, 432, 694, and Back Country , pp. 76-80; and “An Englishman in South 
Carolina," Continental Monthly, II (1862), 693. 

And among recent historians: Ballagh, p. 103; Bassett, p. 87; Flanders, pp. 159- 
62; Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 523-24, and Sea Islands , pp. 87-88; Mc- 
Donald, p. 156; McDougle, Journal of Negro History , III, 72-73; Moody, pp. 79-81 ; 
Patterson, p. 66; and Phillips, American Negro Slavery , p. 266. 

*°P. 75.* 

51 h 565- 



year. For summer he gave them two shirts, two pairs of pants, 
and one straw hat. Some needed more . 52 

It appears to have been the practice on many plantations to 
make most of the clothing for the slaves at home. Sometimes 
this included even the spinning and weaving of the cloth; some- 
times cloth was purchased but was made into garments by the 
female slaves, frequently with the help and under the supervision 
of the women of the planter’s family. On St. George Cocke's 
Virginia plantation as much as possible was made on the plan- 
tation; wool and cotton were grown, and women with young 
children were required to spin and weave . 55 On the North Caro- 
lina plantation of which Avirett wrote all was spun, woven, and 
made on the plantation, and even the dyes — from oak, poplar, 
dogwood, and cochineal — were homemade . 54 In Georgia some of 
the clothing material was made on the plantation, but large 
amounts of osnaburgs (a coarse linen of flax and tow) were pur- 
chased. Many planters had their own tannery and cobbler . 55 
Mrs. Smedes wrote that on the Mississippi plantation on which 
she had been brought up the everyday clothing of all the Ne- 
groes — wool and cotton suits — was cut and -made in the house. 
Woolen socks and stockings were knit in their cabins by the old 
women and in the “great house” by young girls. On rainy days 
the slave women were taught to sew. Even shoes were made on 
the plantation. The clothing for newly born infants was made 
by the mistress . 56 Louisiana sugar planters bought most of the 
clothing for their slaves ready-made, but shoes were made on 
the plantation . 57 

Information is lacking on the clothing supplied the house 
servants. Some few were dressed in livery, the others were prob- 

52 Industrial Resources , II, 331-35. The problem of protecting Negroes and their 
clothing against moisture attracted the attention of another writer, who suggested that 
waterproof “sacks” be made by coating a cotton-cloth overcoat, or sack, with a mixture 
of linseed oil and litharge {ibid., IV, 512). 

53 Ibid., pp. 177-78. 

P. 58; cf. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina, pp. 523-2 4. ss Flanders, p. 1 59. 

Smedes, pp. 34-38, 45; cf. also Olmsted, Back Country , pp. 76-80; and Wendel H. 
Stephenson, p. 369. 

57 Moody, p. 80. 



ably fairly well clothed, either in the discarded garments of the 
white family or in clothing purchased for them. 

The clothing of the slaves in the cities and towns depended 
upon their occupation, upon their master’s generosity, and upon 
their own initiative. Most of them were either house servants 
and clothed accordingly or were hired out by their owners in 
various occupations. Many of them had money of their own to 
spend. But the accounts which tell us of the dress of Negroes in 
southern cities probably give too bright a picture. These ob- 
servers saw the Negroes at their best, on special occasions, and a 
good share of them were probably freed Negroes. To Olmsted, 
who mentions the Negroes he saw on the streets of Richmond 
one Sunday, the greater part of them seemed dressed in the 
cast-off clothes of whites. Many, who he thought had probably 
come in from near-by farms, wore clothing of coarse gray “Negro 
cloth,” that appeared as if “made by contract” without regard 
to size. A few had a better suit of coarse blue cloth, evidently 
made especially for them, for “Sunday clothes.” J. Milton 
Mackie found the Negroes in Charleston dressed in their Sun- 
day best, and Nehemiah Adams, after spending a Sunday in 
Savannah in 1854, described the Negroes there, in their 

broadcloth suits, well-fitting and nicely-ironed fine shirts, polished boots, 
gloves, umbrellas for sunshades, the best of hats, the young men with their 
blue coats and bright buttons, in the latest style, white Marseilles vest, white 
pantaloons, brooches in their shirt bosoms* gold chains, elegant sticks, and 
some old men leaning on their ivory and silver-headed staves, as respectable 
in their attire as any who that day went to the house of God. 

Lillian Foster, in Augusta in 1853, was struck by the extrava- 
gant dress of the black population she saw going to church. The 
plainly dressed ones were in black-silk dresses, white-muslin 
shawls, and straw bonnets. The men were in broadcloth with 
bright buttons, fine hats and gloves, canes, and with usually a 
watch and breast pin. Emily Burke commented similarly on 
the slaves she saw in the cities and towns of Georgia — they gen- 
erally wore good clothing, and many even dressed extravagantly, 
some of them to the point of wearing costly jewelry. 58 

58 Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States , p. 28; Mackie, pp. 101-2; Adams, A South-Side View 
of Slavery (Boston: T. R. Marvin, 1854), pp. 29-30; Foster, p. 94; Burke, pp, 87-88. 


Clothing on the Frontier . — If the absence of class distinctions 
in dress was an American characteristic, it was most evident in 
that most “American” of all regions, the Frontier. The farther 
west one went, the more similar became the clothing of the rich- 
est and the poorest, and by the time the Frontier was reached it 
was impossible to distinguish classes (if, indeed, there were any 
classes) by the clothes they wore. In rural Illinois $20 for a suit 
was considered high, and Lincoln once handed down a court de- 
cision in which $28 was declared excessive for a suit bought on 
credit by the son of a prosperous farmer. 59 Most of the men 
there in the fifties were wearing blue jeans, usually patched, and 
brogans. 60 

The clothing of this region and its manufacture are well de- 
scribed by Charles B. Johnson. Each home would have its loom, 
a crude, heavy contrivance, on which jeans and woolsey and 
sometimes less coarse fabrics were woven. There was also a 
spinning wheel, on which fibers were spun after they had been 
carded, the carding being done by an elderly female, if there was 
one in the family. Workingmen, and many others, wore jeans, 
the women linsey ; the woolens were home-woven and homespun 
from wool grown on the backs of their own sheep. Socks were 
also of wool, winter and summer. Underclothing was seldom 
worn, and boys- grew to manhood before having overcoats. The 
clothing was dyed with dyes prepared at home from indigo, 
madder, and various barks. For dress-up occasions men wore 
“store clothes,” poorly fitting and poorly made. Workingmen, 
for everyday wear, wore long jeans “hunting shirts,” and a wool 
outer garment called a “wammus,” amply cut but with no skirt 
— more like a modern wool sweater than anything else — was 
also much worn. Most men wore heavy brogans, though some 
had boots made by the village shoemaker; rubber boots and 
overshoes were seldom seen. In stormy weather men wore over- 
coats and leggings of strong, thick cloth. Well-dressed men all 
wore thick, heavy woolen shawls, usually gray. Few but the 

59 Beveridge, II, 255. 

Ibid., II, 198. 



professional class wore watches. Women of forty-five and older 
all wore little white caps. 61 

It had not been long before i860 that the pioneers in the Mis- 
sissippi Valley had brought with them spinning wheels for spin- 
ning their own wool and cotton; 62 but it appears doubtful that 
there was much making of cloth as late as that year. Dick 
writes of the regions west of the Missouri River: 

Ladies dressed in silks and tasty woolens, the skirts full and reaching to 
the ground. Shawls were worn summer and winter. Many men wore old 
army uniforms with bright brass buttons, but some had plain dark coats. 
A few even wore tall silk stove-pipe hats. These elegancies in dress were, 
however, confined to the few and more often both men and women dressed 
very plainly . 63 

The women, for the most part, made their own dresses, but from 
purchased dress goods. A Kansas pioneer later recalled the 
early sixties, when calico at 40 cents a yard had been almost the 
universal dress goods for women and small children. Those were 
hard times, when underclothing was frequently made from flour 
sacks. 64 

In Utah, to which transportation from the eastern factories 
was slow and expensive, more of the clothing had to be made at 
home. It is reported that in the typical home of the Utah pio- 
neer of the fifties the family was likely to be engaged in all the 
various stages of making woolen cloth. The grandmother would 
be carding, the girls spinning, and the children helping. When 
ordinary materials could not be obtained, any and all kinds of 
cloth, even wagon covers, were made into dresses and trousers. 
Dyes, too, were homemade. 65 Richard Burton described the 
women of Salt Lake City as all wearing sunbonnets, with veils 
behind. They wore loose jackets and petticoats, usually of cali- 
co or some other inexpensive material. The- wealthier affected 
silks, especially black silks. 66 

6x Illinois in the Fifties , pp. 16-17, 23-26. The wearing of shawls by men was by no 
means peculiar to the Frontier (see “Shawls,” Harper's Weekly , I [November 7, 1857], 

62 Cf. Richman, p. 179. 

63 'Dick, p. 70. 6s L. E. Young, pp. 192-93. Even combs were homemade. 

64 Valentine, p. 81. 66 Burton, p. 277. 



On the mining frontier clothing was more likely to be pic- 
turesque than elaborate. Villard described the Colorado miners 
as wearing blue or red flannel shirts, woolen undershirts, cotton 
drawers, woolen or cotton socks, stout shoes, broad-brimmed 
soft felt hats, and pants and coats of thick wool, with overcoats 
in the winter. 67 What was being worn in Nevada may be judged 
from Simpson's notes of prices in the mining community of 
China Town: ordinary shoes $3.00; pegged boots $6.oo~$ 10.00; 
and hickory shirts $1.25. 68 In Oregon the pioneers were so re- 
moved from supplies that when thread and cloth gave out buck- 
skin and deer sinew were used. 69 

Little has been written of the clothing worn in California. 
The miners probably wore the rough clothing of the miners in 
other parts of the country; that of the ranchers can only be 
guessed at. The coast of California was more firmly connected to 
the East by transportation than were regions in the interior of 
the country, but the transportation was slow and relatively ex- 
pensive. Clothing was not hard to obtain, but prices were prob- 
ably high. 70 

The native populations of the Southwest paid little attention 
to dress. Olmsted spoke of the clothing worn by the Mexicans in 
San Antonio as loose and slight and slatternly. Frequently the 
women wore only a chemise and a calico petticoat. 71 


Boots and shoes . — The application of mass-production meth- 
ods had been carried farther in shoe manufacture than in any 
other part of the clothing industry. The development just prior 
to i860 had been so rapid as to cause the author of the Census 
article on that industry to speak of a “silent revolution." 72 

67 Villard, Past and Present , pp. 55-56. 

« P. 90. 

69 Fuller, p. 279. 

70 Bandel gave the following prices for clothing in southern California (November, 
1858) : cap, $ 2.00 ; two overshirts, $ 2.00 ; two undershirts, $3. 00; one necktie, $ 1 .75; two 
handkerchiefs, $1.50 (pp. 242-43). 

71 Texas Journey, p. 162. 

72 Eighth Census: Manufactures, p. bad. 


More than one-twelfth of all the operatives in manufacturing 
were employed in the shoe industry — more than in any other 
single occupation outside agriculture. The Census reported 1 2,- 
487 establishments, employing 1 23,029 workers, and producing 
boots and shoes valued at $91, 891,498. 7 3 

By i860 there were few important makers who were not using 
steam- or water-power to drive their machinery; there were 
splitting machines, racing machines, pegging, sewing, and buff- 
ing machines, and machines for dieing out soles and heels. 74 The 
factory system itself came in around 1855, and by that year 
there were specialization of function, division of labor, and the 
widespread use of machinery. Towns were specializing in dif- 
ferent kinds of footwear: New York and Philadelphia in fine 
boots and shoes. New England (which produced more than half 
the nation’s total) in the mass production of cheap shoes. The 
Census spoke of the industry “daily assuming the character- 
istics of the factory system, being conducted in large establish- 
ments of several stories, each floor devoted to a separate part of 
the work, with the aid of steam power, and all the labor-saving 
contrivances of the trade.” 75 

How comfortable and well-made these shoes were is less cer- 
tain. Strippers and sole cutters, invented in the forties, gave 
regularity of shape and uniformity of size; and in the fifties the 
making of distinct shoes for right and left foot was coming to be, 
if not already, the rule. 76 Still, even in i860 one or two styles of 
last were considered sufficient for a manufacturer to use on any 
particular line of goods. 77 Pegged boots and shoes made up the 
largest part of the output. 78 “No men’s sewed boots were pro- 

73 Ibid ., p. lxvii. 

74 See Blanch Evans Hazard, The Organization oj the Boot and Shoe Industry in Mas- 
sachusetts before 1875 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1921), pp. 78-112, 124 ff., 
William B. Rice, “The Boot and Shoe Trade,” One Hundred Years of American Com - 
mercey II, 567. 

The McKay sewing machine, perhaps the most important single invention for the 
industry, was being adopted just about i860. Again, the effect of the Civil War — creat- 
ing a demand for mass-produced shoes — in speeding up industrial change should be men- 

75 Eighth Census; Manufactures , pp. lxxi-lxxii. 

76 Hazard, p. 76. 77 Rice, p. 572. 78 Eighth Census : Manufactures , p. lxx. 



duced in Massachusetts in i860 except by custom workmen and 
by a half dozen manufacturers in Quincy and its vicinity, who 
made sewed calf boots for the Southern trade.” 79 

While the working class purchased these factory-made 
shoes, 80 the well-to-do still ordered their own boots from custom 
bootmakers. Southerners bought cheaply made brogans by the 
hundreds for their slaves, while in the North farmers, hired 
help, and growing boys wore rough brogans or plow shoes. In 
the West it was impossible to have custom-made shoes, except 
such as the village shoemaker could turn out, and this gave add- 
ed impetus to the specialized manufacture of ready-made shoes. 

- While it is impossible to generalize as to how well shod the 
country was as a whole, there were enough shoes being made, 81 
and they were being made cheaply enough, so that none but the 
poorest need to have gone barefoot. 

It appeared in the early fifties that leather boots and shoes 
were to have a powerful rival in rubber footwear. For several 
years two of the largest rubber companies produced annually 
between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 'boots and shoes, but by i860 
the yearly output of the rubber-boot and shoe industry was only 
about 1,200,000 pairs. 82 

79 Shoe and Leather Reporter , quoted in Scientific American , V (1861), 304. 

80 Retail prices for shoes in Massachusetts in 1859 were as low as 60 cents, as high as 
$1.57 a pair, $1.02 being considered a medium price. Boot prices ran from 70 cents to 
$3. 51, with $1.35 a low medium and $2.23 a high medium. Slippers sold at from 63 
to 98 cents a pair (Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for 
the Year i88j, pp. 343 and 346). 

Merchants in twenty-two cities, fairly well scattered over the country, were able to 
report to the tenth Census the prices they had charged for men's heavy boots in i860 or 
1861. The prices ranged from $1.50 to $ 6 . 00, though perhaps three-quarters of the re- 
ports put the price at from $3.00 to $4.00 (U.S. Census Office, Tenth Census of the United 
States , 1880: Report on the Average Retail Prices of the Necessities of Life , XX [Washing- 
ton: Government Printing Office, 1886], 109-11. 

81 The single state of Massachusetts produced 44,308,302 pairs of boots and shoes in 
i860 {One Hundred Years' Progress , p. 324). 

82 See Eighth Census: Manufactures , pp. lxxix-lxxx; James L. Bishop, II, 413 and 
III, 307-9; and Charles L. Johnson, “American Rubber Manufactures," One Hundred 
Years of American Commerce , II, 501. The retail prices of rubber boots in Massachu- 
setts in 1859 were from $1.72 to $3.50 a pair, with a medium price of $2.25. Rubbers 
sold for $0.70 (Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the 
Year 1885 > P* 344)- 



Hosiery . — The first power knitting machine in the United 
States seems to have been put into use in 1832. By 1864, 126 
patents had been granted for hosiery looms and knitting ma- 
chines, no of them after 1850, and 36 after i860. The power 
stocking loom and the rotary knitting machine, each invented in 
1852, had each been improved two years later. By that year, 
1854, a single New Hampshire firm had 7 power looms and 60 
hand looms. Other improvements, including seamless hosiery, 
had been introduced by i860. By the time the war commenced 
4 per cent of the cotton yarn produced in the country was being 
used in the power knitting of hosiery and underwear. 83 Nearly 
200 establishments making hosiery reported to the 1 860 Census, 
having a product valued in excess of $7,000,00 o. 

Hats and caps . — By i860 silk hats no longer needed a cane or 
willow framework, they were made by covering a body or foun- 
dation of felt, fur, silk, or muslin with plush or shag, having a 
long nap or pile of silk. The bodies of the best were being made 
chiefly of Russian hare's fur. Fur hats were made of the fur of 
hares, rabbits, muskrats, nutrias, and of wool, variously mixed 
and coated with fine beaver's fur — few were made wholly of 
beaver. The soft or felt hats were made of beaver, rabbit, or 
hare fur; the cheaper ones of wool, sometimes covered with goat 
or camel hair. The manufacturers included in the Census of 
i860 reported a production for the year of 11,793,007 hats, of 
which 688,879 were silk; 2,449,672 were fur; 2,462,794 felt or 
soft; and 6,191,482 were woolen hats. They reported also 
4,458,000 hat bodies and 1,646,600 caps. The making of palm- 
leaf hats was by this time well established. In 1845, 2,845,264 
palm-leaf hats, valued at $489,237, had been manufactured in 
Massachusetts alone; in i860 the output for the whole country 
was valued at $760, 287. 84 

83 J. L. Bishop, II, 489-90; V. S. Clark, 1 , 430, 559; see also Jonas B. Aiken, Treatise 
on the Art of Knittings with a History of the Knitting Loom .... ([New York?]: The In- 
ventor, 1861). 

* 4 Eighth Census: Manufactures , pp. xciv, clvii, clxii; see also Edwin T. Freedley 
(ed.), Leading Pursuits and Leading Men (Philadelphia: Edward Young, 1856), p. 450. 
Retail hat prices in Massachusetts, as given by the report previously cited, ranged from 
33 cents to #2.79 in 1859, $1.02 being designated as medium low and $1.73 as medium 



Shirts and collars. — I suspect, although I do not know posi- 
tively, that a good many shirts were still being made in the 
home; in any case, I have no basis for making a quantitative 
estimate. As far as the commercial output is concerned, there 
were, in i860, census returns from 219 establishments making 
shirts, collars, and men’s furnishings, having an output for the 
year valued at more than $7,000,000. Detachable collars and 
cuffs were probably first used around 1845, an d dickies had also 
been in use for some years. (Paper collars, first made in the 
fifties, did not become popular until the sixties or later.) 85 The 
application of factory methods meant that prices were fairly 
low: one Philadelphia firm making high-quality shirts priced its 
output at from $ 11.00 to $ 60.00 a dozen; the bulk of its sales to 
country merchants were priced at from $1 5.00 to $17.00 a dozen, 
while fine linen shirts sold at from $3.50 to $5.00 each. Another 
Philadelphia company, supposedly making shirts of good qual- 
ity, priced its output at from $5.00 to $40.00 a dozen. 88 Fore- 
runners of mail-order houses are to be seen in the firms adver- 
tising shirts by express, at prices usually about $18.00 a dozen, 
occasionally somewhat higher. 87 

Gloves. — With the application of the sewing machine to glove- 
making, the output of the industry increased rapidly — from 

high. Straw hats had been sold the year before at from 1 8§ cents to $i. 12, with 50 cents 
as a medium price (p. 352). Men’s black hats were advertised at $2.00-^4.00 in Charles- 
ton in 1854; and silk dress hats and black cassimere hats at $4.00 in Louisville in 1859 
{Southern Business Directory and General Commercial Advertiser , 1854, p. 353; Louisville 
Courier, July 1, 1859). 

85 Eighth Census: Manufactures, p. Ixv; Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), p. 224; 
One Hundred Years of American Commerce , II, 668. 

For paper collars see J. L. Bishop, II, 508, 559-60, and III, 6r-62; Godey's Lady's 
Book, LX (i860), 86; and S. Morton Peto, Resources and Prospects of America (New 
York: Alexander Strahan & Co., 1866), p. 132. 

86 Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), p. 224, and Leading Pursuits, p. 148. 

The retail price of shirtings was usually from 10 to I2§ cents a yard (Massachusetts, 
Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year i8j<y, p. 81; Massachusetts, 
Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year 1885, p. 373; Tenth Census, 

XX, 4-32). 

8 ? See advertisements in Harper's Weekly , III (October 22, 1859), 688; Illinois State 
Business Directory , i860 (Chicago: J. C. W. Bailey & Co., i860), p. 455; and other con- 
temporary publications. 



$700,000 in 1850 to well over $1,000,000 in i860, and to $4,000,- 
000 in 1870. 88 The manufacture of gloves was concentrated 
in a few localities: Fulton County, New York (in which was the 
town of Gloversville) in i860 made nearly $1,000,000 worth of 
gloves, mostly buckskin. 89 Even at the end of the century buck- 
skin (deerskin) was the preferred material for gloves. 90 

Shawls . — Shawls, much used by men as well as by women in 
i860, were made in a great variety of materials and patterns. 
In 1859 prices in Massachusetts ranged from 94 cents up to 
$11.00 each, with $4.83 designated as a medium price and $2.42 
a low medium. 91 

Hoopskirts. — While the hoopskirt era lasted, the manufacture 
of hoopskirts was an important branch of manufacturing. The 
Census reported 78 establishments making hoopskirts, with an 
annual product of nearly $5,000,000. Several firms employed 
from 800 to 1,000 women and had daily outputs of skirts meas- 
ured in the thousands. 92 

Umbrellas . — The manufacture of umbrellas had begun at the 

88 U.S. Census Office, Twelfth Census , igoo: Census Reports , Vol. IX: Manufactures 
(Part III: “Special Reports on Selected Industries”) (Washington: Census Office, 
1901-2), pp. 783, 795- 

Gloves sold at from I3§ cents to #1.12 a pair in Massachusetts in 1859, 29 cents being 
a low-medium and 78 cents a high-medium price; kid gloves sold at about 85 cents a 
pair. Mittens sold at from 29 cents to 9i§ cents in 1858, 62 cents being a medium price 
(Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year i88j>> pp. 
35°, 353)- 

89 One Hundred Years' Progress , p. 327. 

90 One Hundred Years of American Commerce , II, 666. 

91 Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report for the Year 188s, 
p. 354. The wholesale price for standard shawls, 72 by 144 inches, weight 42 02., made 
of XX Ohio fleece wool, remained at $4 .65 from 1857 through i860 {Aldrich Report , II, 


The price of fur wraps was, of course, subject to a wide range of variations. A New 
York business directory of i860 gives prices for a full set of furs — muff, cuffs, and 
cape — varying from $25 for French cony or mixed squirrel up to as much as #1,500 for 
Russian sable (Gobright and Pratt, The Union Sketch-Book [New York: Pudney & 
Russell, i860], p. 60). 

92 Eighth Census : Manufactures , pp. Ixxxv-lxxxvii. Gobright and Pratt describe one 
New York firm, which employed from 800 to 1,000 persons, as making from 2,500 to 
4,000 skirts a day (pp. 54-57). Harper's Weekly for January 29, 1859 (HI, 68) described 
a factory employing 800 women, with an output of 3,000 skirts a day; and the February 
19, 1859 (HI, 125) issue described one employing 1,000 women, turning out from 3,000 
to 4,000 skirts daily. v 


21 3 

turn of the century, but it was not until about 1 865 that it be- 
came an important business. 53 In earlier years the covering had 
been of cotton, but by i860 silk was being used, and some were 
covered with gingham or alpaca. The sticks were of rattan, 
some with handles of bone, horn, or ivory, and the framework 
was of whalebone or steel. 54 In 1857 one Philadelphia firm was 
producing about 700,000 umbrellas and parasols a year. 95 The 
output for the nation was valued at $3,000,000 in i860. 56 

The rubberizing of coats as a protection against rain had been 
developed some years before, but the mackintosh had not yet 
come into common use. 97 

Watches and jewelry. — The first watch to be produced by fac- 
tory methods, using automatic machinery to make interchange- 
able parts, was made in 1850. These first appeared on the mar- 
ket in 1853, with an eighteen-size, “full-plate,” thirty-six-hour 
watch at $40. Sale was slow at first, but from that date Ameri- 
can manufacturers began to control the market, where before 
many thousands of English and Swiss watches had been 
imported yearly. 98 A common gold watchcase could be ob- 

« One Hundred Years of American Commerce , II, 652-53. 

9 * Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), p. 391, and Leading Pursuits, pp. 473-74. 

95 Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), p. 391. 

96 Eighth Census: Manufactures , p. 742. Imports of umbrellas and parasols were 
limited to fancy goods. Lord and Taylor were advertising “extra rich French parasols” 
at $3.00 each ( Home Journal , June 23, i860). 

9 ? Mackintosh, of Glasgow, dissolved caoutchouc in naphtha, applied the solution as 
a varnish to the surfaces of two pieces of cloth, laid them together, and pressed them be- 
tween rollers. He was granted a patent in 1823 {Eighth Census: Manufactures , p. lxxv). 

Goodyear himself was enthusiastic about the use of rubber for clothing, not only for 
protection against water, but for many other uses (see his Gum-Elastic , first published 
1 853-55, two vols. in one, India-Rubber Journals facsimile reproduction [London: Mac- 
laren & Sons, Ltd., 1937], esp. Vol. II, chaps, xxv and xxvi, in which he urges the use of 
rubber buttons, suspenders, stays, coats and capes, baptizing dresses, aprons, gloves, 
shoes, overshoes, firemen’s hats, and so on). 

98 E. Howard, “American Watches and Clocks,” One Hundred Years of American 
Commerce , II, 540; Milham, chap, xxi; One Hundred Years' Progress , p. 370; Harry C. 
Brearley, Time Telling through the Ages (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1919), 
chap, xiii; “The American Watch Manufactory,” Leslie's , VI (August 21, 1858), 186— 
8 7 * 

The dollar value of imports was still substantially higher than that of domestic pro- 
duction. In the year ending June 30, i860, $2,788,671 in watches and parts and $101,221 
in materials and unfinished parts were imported, re-exports being negligible ( Commerce 



tained for $20 or less, more elaborate ones selling for up 
to $125." 

Both men and women were fond of jewelry, and neither sex 
showed any undue modesty about wearing it. Men displayed 
theirs prominently. Their waistcoats were fastened with jeweled 
buttons, even diamonds, and jeweled studs and scarf pins were 
worn by the fashionable. 100 Women showed their taste for jewel- 
ry in earrings, brooches, necklaces, ropes of pearls, and brace- 
lets and rings of enamel set with gold. Black ribbons were fre- 
quently worn about the wrist. In 1858 and 1859, when hair was 
arranged on top of the head in heavy braids, the coiffures were 
varied now and then with a tiara of velvet and pearls or jet or 
coral. Evening gloves were sometimes set with jewels. 101 

Such ostentation, of course, was only for the rich. While Tif- 
fany’s, at 550 Broadway, was employing two hundred workers 
in silverware and as many more in the manufacture of jewlery. 
New England was producing gilt and plated — and brass — 
jewelry on a factory basis. Attleboro, Pawtucket, and other 
cities were producing cheap jewelry of all sorts; and, while New 
York (with its gem market) led all states in the value of jewelry 
produced, Rhode Island employed the greatest number of work- 

and Navigation Report, i860 , pp. 76-77, 198-99). Reported domestic manufactures in 
i860 were $1,524,700 {Eighth Census: Manufactures , p. 742). More than 10,000 watch 
movements were manufactured at Waltham in 1858 {Frank Leslie's Illustrated News- 
paper, VII [March 12, 1859], 233). 

99 Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), p. 346. Gold watches were advertised at $35- 
$100, silver watches at $12-^25, in The Boston Directory for the Year Commencing July 1 , 
1859 (Boston: Adams, Sampson, & Co., 1859), adv. sec., p. 76). An advertisement in 
the Dial (Cincinnati) for June, i860, priced watches from $10 (for Swiss, silver Swiss, 
and English levers) up to $350 (for extra “fine” watches). 

100 McClellan, p. 414; Sage, p. 203. . 

101 Lester, p. 199; McClellan, pp. 254-55; Sage; p. 203. Mrs. Bishop wrote that 
American ladies wore very costly jewelry; she had been shown in a store a $25,000 dia- 
mond bracelet. But she was told that most of such ostentatious jewelry was worn in 
the West and South. This seems to have made quite an impression on her, for a few 
pages later she wrote that she saw little jewelry worn and that apparently its ostenta- 
tion was more acceptable in the South and West (pp. 341, 363). 

Godey* s fashion editor offered to supply breastpins at $4.oo-$i2.oo each; earrings at 
$4.5o-$io.oo; bracelets at $3.00-$! 5.00; rings at $i.5o-$3.oo; necklaces at $ 6.00- 
$15.00; fob chains at $6.oo-$i2,oo; hair studs at $5.50-$i 1.00 a set; and sleeve but- 
tons at $6.5 o-$ii.oo {Godey’s Lady's Book , LX [i860], 87, and in other issues). 



ers. The recent gold discoveries, however, had given a fillip to 
the manufacture of solid and plated jewelry and brought its 
wares within the range of a greater number of people. 101 How 
much the reports to the Census of Manufactures were worth is 
problematical. In i860, 8 manufacturers reported making $45,- 
600 worth of “hair jewelry,” and 463 manufacturers reported a 
total jewelry output of $10,415,81 1. 103 

In 1842 the first factory for making pocket knives had been 
started in Connecticut. 104 Wholesale prices in i860 were as low 
as $1 .40 a dozen for single-bladed, wood-handled knives, while 
pearl-handled penknives cost up to $16.00 a dozen. 105 The “Bar- 
low” knife was the familiar companion of men and boys all over 
the country. 


The commercial laundry was in i860 hardly existent. To 
what extent people employed laundresses it is impossible to say- 
but we may be sure the wealthy were not doing their own wash- 
ing when the poor were as numerous as they were. Nearly 40,- 

000 women gave their occupations as laundresses in 1 860, 106 and 

1 think it hardly probable that this is anything like a complete 
listing. Washing machines of a fairly practical type — oper- 
ated by turning a crank which churned the clothes about in a re- 
volving barrel — were widely advertised, priced from $10.00 up. 
But the great majority used a washboard and ironed with the 
same clumsy flatirons that had been in use for many years. 
Wooden clothespins of the sort still familiar were used in the 

Considerable doubt attaches to the clothes-cleaning business 
— to what extent it had developed, what methods it used, what 
prices it charged. 107 

102 James L. Bishop, III, 182-89; V. S. Clark, I, 527-28. 

103 Eighth Census: Manufactures , p. 737. During the year ending June 30, i860, 
$19,221 in set gems and $929,969 in unset gems had been imported; there were no re- 
exports {Commerce and Navigation Report , i860, pp. 216-17). 

104 One Hundred Years of American Commerce , I, xxv. 

105 Aldrich Report, II, 197-204. 

106 Eighth Census: Population , pp. 666-67. Many of these were Negresses. 

107 Seven firms of clothes-cleaners were listed in the Boston Almanac , i860, p. 129. 



Soap and cosmetics . — How far commercially manufactured 
soap had superseded the homemade variety by i860 is open to 
question. It seems probable that, away from the towns and 
cities, at least, people continued to make their own soap — as, 
indeed, they were still doing on farms at a much later date. 
Says Mrs . Putnam's Receipt Book: “The fat from soup stock 
and all other fat that with proper care accumulates in a kitchen, 
may be used for making a soft soap with but very little trouble, 
and a great saving may be made thereby, as it is much better 
than the soap that you get in exchange for your house grease.” 
The receipt called for 17 pounds of potash to 20 pounds of 
grease. 108 In Illinois “people made their own soap with lye and 
fat. The lye was made by leaching wood ashes and the fat came 
through the utilization of all kinds of meat scraps, some of which 
were sometimes repulsive in both appearance and smell. How- 
ever, the strong lye with which the scraps were mixed corrected 
all this.” 105 In Utah all the grease from cooking and butchering 
was carefully kept, and in the spring the grease and lye were 
boiled together in a great pot out of doors. It took many bush- 
els of ashes and many pounds of grease, but usually only a day's 
time, to make a barrel of soap. 110 A contemporary book on do- 
mestic science gave instructions for making yellow hard soap 
(soda with oil or fat and resin), Castile (olive oil, saponified with 
soda, and colored), Windsor (tallow plus a small amount of olive 
oil and soda), cocoanut-oil soap, toilet soap (lard, almond oil, 
palm oil, olive oil, or suet, combined with soda or potash), and a 
variety of colored and perfumed soaps, transparent soaps, and 
other fancy varieties. 111 

Up to the middle of the century the commercial manufacture 
of soap had been associated with the packing industry, 112 and 

108 Pp. 193-94. 

109 Charles B. Johnson, p. 22. 110 L. E. Young, p. 193. 

111 Youmans, p. 427. In many periodicals there were advertisements for a “saponi- 
her,” or concentrated lye for soapmaking. 

Ila V. S. Clark, II, 35 . 



the combination of soap and candlemaking in the same firms 
continued. But Chevreul’s discoveries in 1841 “demonstrated 
the true principles of saponification,” and by 1850 the soap in- 
dustry had grown to “great proportions.” The manufacture of 
fancy soaps in the United States had begun; shaving soaps had 
been greatly improved, and other specialties either improved or 
made for the first time. 113 By i860 there were more than 600 
firms large enough to be included in the Census returns, with a 
combined output (of soap and candles) valued at $ 18,500, 000. 114 
Retail prices were so varied as to make any sort of average 
worthless. 115 

Satisfactory shaving soap was being made by i860, and the 
fastidious man could also have his after-shaving lotion. There 
were numerous manufacturers of shaving brushes and shaving 
strops, but apparently none of razors, all being imported. If 
people did not take care of their teeth, it was not from lack of 
dentifrices or toothbrushes or from lack of advertising. Most of 
the tooth powders and pastes had a charcoal base, but the more 
expensive ones were elaborately compounded out of such in- 
gredients as pumice, cuttlefish bone, red coral, burnt hartshorn, 
burnt bone, shellac, prepared chalk, and the like. There were 
also mouth washes. 116 

1X2 Samuel Colgate, “American Soap Factories/* One Hundred Years of American 
Commerce, II, 422-28; see also Campbell Morfit, Perfumery: Its Manufacture and Use 
(Philadelphia: Henry Carey Baird, 1853), chaps. 1 -lii, which describes the processes used 
in making soap. The best toilet soaps appear at that date to have had as a base a mixture 
of lard, palm oil, and spermaceti. Hard soap was composed of two parts of lard to one of 
soda lye at 36°. Floating soap was also being made. A wide variety of soaps — toilet 
soap, dental soap, mechanics* soap, household soap, shaving soap, and others — were ad- 
vertised in the periodicals of the time. 

114 Eighth Census: Manufactures, p. 741 . There were also 33 establishments making 
perfumery and fancy soap, with an output of more than $1, 000, 000 (p. 739). 

"s Soap was usually purchased by the pound, which probably indicates that bar soap 
was rarely used outride the larger cities. Common soap sold in Massachusetts for about 
11 cents a pound. The 25 retail stores reporting soap prices for the years 1859, i860, or 
1861 to the Tenth Census charged from 4 to 12 cents a pound, with no clustering about 
any particular price (Massachusetts, Bureau of Labor and Industries, Annual Report 
for the Year 1885, pp. 419, 452; Tenth Census , XX, 23-43). 

116 Colgate; Arnold J. Cooley, Hand-Book of Perfumes , Cosmetics and Other Toilet 
Articles (Philadelphia: J. B. lippincott & Co., 187 3), passim; Morfit, chap, xxxvi. Ad- 
vertisements for such dentifrices as “Balm of a Thousand Flowers** were to be found in 
all sorts of newspapers and magazines. 


Sala somehow got the impression — I think erroneous — that 
American women used a great deal of prepared chalk, though 
rarely using rouge. 117 Powdered starch and farina seem to have 
been far and away the most popular face powders. Finely pow- 
dered light carbonate of magnesia was also used, as were finely 
powdered talc and scraped French chalk. A decade later, and 
probably it was as true in i860, ladies of the haut ton were said 
to prefer metallic compounds of greater whiteness and bril- 
liance: “pearl-powder” (subchloride of bismuth), “pearl-white” 
(trinitrate of bismuth), or even “flake- white” (carbonate of 
lead) and “white precipitate” (ammoniochloride of mercury), 
the last two highly poisonous. 118 There were also lotions, lip 
salves, hair oils and pomades, hair dyes, depilatories, and rouges 
in great variety. 119 

Barbers and hairdressers. — There were plenty of barbers in 
1 860. 120 Many of them were Negroes. In Virginia barbers were 
the most numerous and most useful class of freed Negroes. 
Many towns and cities — Lynchburg and Richmond, for instance 
— were at times almost wholly dependent on free colored bar- 
bers. 121 In Charleston in 1848 there were 4 slave barbers and 14 
freed Negroes. 122 Philadelphia had 248 Negro barbers in 1856, 123 
and there were 269 Negro barbers in Massachusetts in i860. 124 

117 II, 420. 118 Cooley, pp. 428-29. 

1x9 Mor Rt> passim: Cooley, passim. Directions for making many of these at home are 
given in Inquire within for Anything You Want To Know , or Over Three Thousand Seven 
Hundred Facts Worth Knowing (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1858). Widely adver- 
tised was Boyles* “Celebrated Hyperion Fluid” for the hair and mustaches. 

120 The Census listed 11,140 barbers, of whom 8,619 were in the North, 1,653 in the 
South, and 868 on the Frontier ( Eighth Census: Population , pp. 656-57). 

121 John Henderson Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia , 1619-1865 (“Studies in 
Historical and Political Science,” Ser. XXXI, No. 3 [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni- 
versity Press, 1913]), p. 151. 

122 Census of Charleston in r8#8 3 quoted in Phillips, American Negro Slavery , p. 403. 
(There were also 6 white women listed as barbers.) 

123 W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro (“Publications of the Univer- 
sity of Pennsylvania, Series in Political Economy and Public Law,” Vol. XIV [Phila- 
delphia, 1899]), pp. 143-44. 

134 Abstract of the Census of Massachusetts , 1860, pp. 3 56-57. (The abstract also notes, 
as a curiosity, the existence of one “tonsorial artist” — not a Negro, incidentally.) 



Barbers followed the westward movement of the population. 
Leavenworth, Kansas, which in September, 1854, had a popula- 
tion of 99 men and 1 woman, had to wait another five months for 
its first barber-shop, 125 but of all the states and territories only 
Dakota failed to report any barbers to the 1 860 Census. In the 
more settled parts of the country there were revolving and re- 
clining barber-chairs, 126 and for 25 cents 127 one was entitled to a 
certain amount of luxury. Henry Murray found the American 
barber-shop an interesting place: 

Scarcely less important than the bar [in a metropolitan hotel] is the 
barber's shop. Nothing struck me more forcibly than an American under the 
razor and brush: in any and every other circumstance of life full of activity 
and energy, under the razor or brush he is the picture of indolence and help- 
lessness. Indifferent usually to luxury, he here exhausts his ingenuity to 
obtain it; shrinking usually from the touch of a nigger as from the venomed 
tooth of a serpent, he here is seen resigning his nose to the digital custody of 
that sable operator, and placing his throat at his mercy, or revelling in titil- 
lary ecstacy from his manipulations with the hog's bristles; — all this he en- 
joys in a semi-recumbent position, obtained from an easy chair and a high 
stool, wherein he lies with a steadiness which courts prolongation — life-like, 
yet immoveable — suggesting the idea of an Egyptian corpse newly em- 
balmed. .... The barber's shop at the St. Nicholas is the most luxurious in 
New York, and I believe every room has its own brush, glass, &c., similarly 
numbered in the shop . 128 

Sala wrote that not one in five hundred New York belles 
dressed her own hair. 129 I suppose if they didn’t do it them- 
selves, their personal maids must have done it for them; but 
whether there was in i860 anything corresponding to the mod- 
ern beauty-shop I am unable to say. If they existed at all, they 
must have been very rare, for they have escaped mention in 
books of travel and descriptions of city life, as well as statistical 

125 Dick, p. 63. 

126 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXVI (1857), 766, quotes from the Detroit Adver- 
tiser a description of a railroad sleeping car in which some of the seats had revolving and 
reclining backs “similar to barbers' chairs." 

12 7 Batcheler, p. 98. 

128 P. 12. I2 9 ll, 422. 




Characteristics of the period. — The progress yet to be made in 
medical care and public health may be judged by recent esti- 
mates of the expectation of life at birth in Massachusetts (see 
Table 5). Massachusetts was in the forefront of medical ad- 
vance, yet even there the real achievements in lengthening hu- 
man life have come since the Civil War. 


Expectation of Life at Birth, Massachusetts, 1789-1929 




Expectation of life: males (years) 


36. S 




61 .4 

Expectation of life: females (years) 

* Source: Warren S. Thompson and P. K. Whelpton, Population Trends in the United States (New 
York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1933), p. 240. Preliminary reports from the Sixteenth Census indicate that 
by 1940 the expectation of life, at birth had been lengthened to 60.6 years for men and to 64.5 for white 

Care needs to be exercised in interpreting these figures. Practically all the increase is attributable to the 
reduction in infant mortality rather than to an actual lengthening of adult life. (In 1879 the expectation of 
life at 60 was 14.80 for males, 16.10 for females; in 1929 it was only 14.01 for males, 15. 3£ for females.) 
Moreover, much if not most of the improvement is due to the rise in the general standard of living. 

The high death rates and low life-expectancy of the fifties are 
hardly surprising when one remembers that even in the coun- 
tries where the public health movement had had its origin there 
had been time for but little progress. In the United States neg- 
lect of the ordinary sanitary precautions was not limited to 
frontier regions. Everywhere “mosquitoes, flies, and other germ- 
harboring pests were regarded with equanimity, screens and 
disinfectants being used only in the best of hospitals.” 1 “Care- 
lessness and uncleanly conditions in the more thickly settled 
towns and cities bred diseases which quickly assumed an epi- 

1 Dodd, Expansion and Conflict , p. 208. 




demic character /' 2 These diseases "invaded wholesome sections 
of the city, the luxurious homes of the affluent, the palace as 
well as the hovel. Sleeping apartments with luxurious appoint- 
ments, with hot and cold running water were inviting places" 
for the invasion of disease . 3 Nor was it only country towns that 
permitted animals to wander through the streets as scavengers, 
adding the menace of hydrophobia while contributing to the un- 
cleanliness of the streets. 

Typical of the metropolitan cities of the East was New York, 

gradually became the natural home of every variety of contagious disease, 
and the favorite resort of foreign pestilences. Smallpox, scarlet fever, measles, 
diphtheria, were domestic pestilences with which the people were so familiar 
that they regarded them as necessary features of childhood. Malarial fevers, 
caused by the mosquitoes bred in the marshes, which were perfect culture- 
beds, were regularly announced in the autumnal months as having appeared 
with their “usual severity.” The “White Plague,” or consumption, was the 
common inheritance of the poor and rich alike. With the immigrant, came 
typhus and typhoid fevers, which resistless swept through the tenement 
houses, decimating the poverty-stricken tenants. At intervals, the great 
oriental plague, Asiatic cholera, swooped down upon the city with fatal 
energy and gathered its enormous harvest of dead. Even “Yellow Fever,” 
the great pestilence of the tropics, made occasional incursions and found a 
most congenial field for its operations . 4 

The South, besides having its quota of the diseases every- 
where prevalent, suffered more than did other sections from dys- 
entery and diarrhea, from malaria, and from hookworm; near 
the Gulf yellow fever was a constant menace. Planters usually 
safeguarded the health of their slaves so far as possible; but the 
new slaves brought into the Deep South sometimes brought dis- 
ease with them, and in some particularly unhealthful localities 
planters lived in constant fear of the approach of cholera and 
other diseases. Ague and fever were the common property of all 
the Frontier, and the restricted diet in the newly settled areas 
of the Far West led to nutritional diseases. Diseases which 

3 A. C. Cole, p. 179. 

3 David Allyn Gorton, The History of Medicine (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 
1910), I, 207-8. 

4 Steplien Smith, pp. 19-20. 



might otherwise have been trivial were made serious by the lack 
of adequate medical facilities — deaths in childbirth, for in- 
stance, were relatively two and a half times as common in the 
Far West as in the country as a whole. 

Medical knowledge in i860 . — Not until the middle of the nine- 
teenth century was the doctrine of spontaneous generation of 
life completely and conclusively refuted, and even after i860 dis- 
tinguished physicians believed in it. The first disease microbe 
was identified in 1863; and from that time on disease after dis- 
ease was traced to its cause and a preventive or cure found. But 
in the fifties malaria was almost universally believed to be of 
miasmatic origin, and other communicable diseases were simi- 
larly misunderstood or were complete mysteries. It was possi- 
ble, it is true, to vaccinate against smallpox, but Pasteur had 
not yet devised his preventive vaccination technique. 5 

Although it is difficult to be precise, there do appear to have 
been advances in diagnosis and treatment and also advances in 
operative techniques — some of them the product of American 
surgeons. Chief of these was the use of general anesthetics fol- 
lowing the pioneer work of Wells and Morton in 1844. Lister’s 
antiseptic surgery, of course, did not come until 1865 and the 
use of radium and the X-ray until much later. 

Medical 'practice in i860 . — It was hardly to be expected that 
what advances there had been in medical science, made so re- 
cently and so far away, should have had much effect in improv- 
ing medical practice in a country of inadequately trained physi- 
cians and of scattered population with a penchant for family 
remedies and for fads of all sorts. Quacks and frauds preyed 
upon the ignorant masses, selling them patent medicines guar- 
anteed to cure all diseases and devising all sorts of mechanical, 
magnetic, and electrical gadgets supposedly useful in the treat- 
ment of diseases. Phrenologists and spiritualists claimed spe- 

5 For the status of medical knowledge in i860 see any standard history of medicine. 
Fielding H. Garrison, An Introduction to the History of Medicine (3d ed.; Philadelphiar 
W. B. Saunders Co., 1922), and Ronald C. Macfie, The Romance of Medicine [London: 
Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1907) are particularly useful. Arturo Castiglioni, A History ofMedi- 
cine , trans. and ed. E. S. Krumbhaar (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941) is a broader 
treatment but less detailed; chap, xix deals with the first half of the nineteenth century. 


cial abilities, others claimed to heal through manipulating the 
muscles, and still others promoted dietary fads. 6 

It was during the fifties that the “water-cure,” or hydrop- 
athy, acquired a certain prestige and a host of practitioners. 
Homeopathy (and the same is true of hydropathy) appealed to 
many well-trained physicians who had come to distrust the 
heroic medication then in vogue. Homeopathic colleges, hos- 
pitals, and societies sprang up in the big cities; and homeopathic 
physicians were well received all over the country — many vil- 
lages had two doctors, one “allopathic” and one “homeopath- 
ic.” Meanwhile, the traditional practices of “Indian medicine” 
and botanic medicine had their followings, and “eclectic”medi- 
cine, which claimed to combine the best features of the compet- 
ing groups, had its share of practice. 

The -physicians . — The legal requirements for practice were not 
very exacting: usually the law required three years of study 
with some practicing physician and two courses of lectures at a 
medical college. The time spent in study under the preceptor 
was often a mere formality, while the medical schools were 
themselves very lax, and frequently suffered from dissension 
among the faculty. 7 In most states the applicant did not even 
need a degree, “but where diplomas of the highest grade can be 
procured at so little trouble, and at a cost not exceeding forty or 
fifty pounds, nearly all physicians can legally sign themselves 
‘m.d/ The dealer in quack medicines gets a diploma.” 8 A little 
study abroad, where standards were not much higher, brought 
additional prestige. 

There were but faint indications of a trend toward speciali- 
zation. Surgery was still largely in the hands of the general 

6 Gorton (I, 179 ff.) is a readable account of the practice of medicine in the fifties. 

7 For medical training, Gorton (I, 201-2) and Francis R. Packard, History of Medi- 
cine in the United States ([New York: Paul B. Hoeber, Inc., 1931], esp. I, chap, vi, and 
II, chaps, xi and xii), are good. The comments of Thomas Low Nichols, himself a 
physician and an exponent of the water-cure, are interesting (I, 363 ff.). 

Sectional rivalries and the “booster” spirit accounted for the founding of new medical 
schools all over the country, contributing to the general demoralization. 

* Nichols, I, 364. 


practitioner, and this same practitioner not infrequently pulled 
teeth as well. Beginnings had been made in specialization in 
such fields as obstetrics and gynecology, laryngology, and otol- 
ogy, in opthalmology, and in pediatrics; but dentistry had gone 
furthest in developing into a distinct profession — perhaps, as 
Cole suggests, because of the “ravages of disease in the wake of 
a faulty diet”; 9 perhaps the opportunities dentistry offered to 
American inventiveness had something to do with it. There 
were 5,600 dentists in the country, or about 18 for every 100,000 
persons. Towns of any size had dentists permanently located, 
while other dentists served several communities, making a cir- 
cuit in their buggies once or twice a year. Notable advances had 
been made in the technique and equipment of dental surgery, 10 
though general practice remained crude in its methods. The 
most common method for installing a full set of false teeth was 
to set separate porcelain teeth upon a gold plate; other methods 
involved the setting upon the gold plate of porcelain teeth 
carved with a continuous gum or the setting of single teeth on a 
platina plate and packing them with a mineral compound to 
form an artificial gum. 11 During the late fifties numerous den- 
tists were advertising complete sets of false teeth at from $8.00 
to $70.00, with single teeth at $1.00 and up. Cleaning came as 
low as 50 cents, extraction 25 cents, and filling (with gold, gutta- 
percha, or amalgam) at from 50 cents to $1.00. 

The Census reported more than 8,000 nurses in the country in 
i860, 12 or about 26 for every 100,000 persons; four-fifths of them 
were in the North. The term “nurse” as then used, however, 
meant something quite different from what it does today: 

There were no trained nurses except the male internes at the hospital who 
had had no systematic training. There had never been training schools for 
nurses, male or female. Young men with hospital experience were sent out as 

’A. C. Cole, p. 187. 

10 See Charles R. E. Koch (ed.), History of Dental Surgery (Chicago: National Art 
Pub. Co., 1909), I, 220 ff.; and Arthur Ward Lufkin, A History of Dentistry (Philadel- 
phia: Lea & Febiger, 1938), pp. 209 ff. 

11 Scientific American , XII (June 6, 1857), 310. 

12 Eighth Census; Population , pp. 670-71. 


occasion required. But the idea of a woman nursing a man, unless he were 
her husband, had never occurred to anyone. That was an evolution not yet 
reached . 13 

It was not until 1873 that Bellevue Hospital in New York, 
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and the Connecticut 
Training School in New Haven opened the first hospital training 
schools for nurses in this country. As late as 1890 there were 
fewer than 500 graduate nurses in the United States. 14 

Sectional differences in medical care . — The Census returns in- 
dicate that in i860 there were fewer physicians in the North, 
relative to the population, than in the rest of the country, al- 
though the North had its share of surgeons and in eye specialists 
was definitely superior — the latter probably indicative of a 
greater tendency toward specialization in the more urban parts 
of the country (see Table 6). This Census data is open to serious 
qualification: there is doubt as to the completeness of the re- 
turns, doubt as to the definitions of the occupations, 15 and, 
above all, doubt as to the ability and training of the practition- 
ers. Returns for the number of midwives are particularly open 
to question, but they do seem to show that for the most part 
general practitioners were called in for deliveries in the North. 
Midwives were rare outside Missouri (a state questionably 
northern) and Pennsylvania; there were none in New England 
or New York 16 (and this last group had the lowest mortality 
rate for childbirth cases — aoo deaths in 10,000 of all deaths 
among women). 

The physicians of the North were probably the best trained of 
any in the country, but even there medical fees were moderate. 
In Boston, during the fifties, the fee for a visit was $1.00, and 
frequently only 50 cents. 17 A distinguished New York surgeon 

13 Gorton, I, 213. Finley, p. 105. 

13 In Table 6 1 have combined the totals for “physicians” and “surgeons” — I am in- 
clined to doubt whether, in most instances, the distinction was based upon anything 
more fundamental than the individuals' preference in terminology. Similarly, I have 
combined the Census categories “oculists” and “opticians.” 

16 Eighth Census: Population , pp. 668-69. 

[James Bourne Ayer], James Ayer (Boston: Privately printed, 1892), p. 24. 



like Valentine Mott could obtain large fees: Mott twice ob- 
tained $ 1,000 for a single operation and at death left an estate 
of nearly $1,000,000.* 8 

Measured in terms of number of physicians to the hundred 
thousand of population, the South was ahead of the North; the 
small number of specialists is probably the result of the pre- 
dominantly rural character of the South. The 182 midwives re- 
corded for the South indicate a much greater dependence upon 
that type of “specialist” than in the North — but, as in the 
North, we find certain states (North Carolina, which was in a 


Number of Doctors in i860 



Physicians and Surgeons 

Oculists and Opticians 


No. per 


No. per 

The North 





The South . 





The Frontier 




I - 17 

United States 





* Source: Eighth Census: Population , pp. 670-71, 676-77. 

sort of economic backwater, and the two western states of Mis- 
sissippi and Kentucky) accounting for most of the midwives. 
From the great differences between the states one suspects that 
the differences are mostly to be explained as differences in the 
method of enumeration. 

Frontier conditions characterized more of the South than of 
the Northeast, 19 and such conditions are always conducive to 
malarial fevers, since there is little opportunity to drain the 

18 S. D. Gross, Memoir of Valentine Mott y M.D., LL.D. (New York: D. Appleton & 
Co., 1868), p. 88. 

19 What I have to say here is largely taken from Richard H. Shryock, “Medical 
Practice in the Old South,” South Atlantic Quarterly , XXIX (1930), 160-78. See also the 
relevant pages in F. Garvin Davenport, Cultural Life in Nashville on the Eve of the Civil 
War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941). 



land or to determine the most healthful locations prior to settle- 
ment. The longer summers and more steady heat encouraged 
the insect life associated with malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and 
typhoid; they made food preservation more difficult; they com- 
plicated sanitary problems; and they were responsible for such 
a folk habit as going barefoot, which resulted in hookworm in- 
fection. The routine diet (partly due to slavery) caused com- 
mon parasitic infections, as well as diseases more directly linked 
with malnutrition. Along the lower Mississippi and the Gulf the 
dirt-eating disease, which was probably partly hookworm and 
perhaps beriberi, was common. The mortality rate of New Or- 
leans was estimated at three times that of contemporary Lon- 
don, New York, and Philadelphia. On the other hand, the up- 
per Piedmont and such cities as Charleston, were relatively 
healthful. Yellow fever was largely restricted to towns and to 
whites; cholera “drew no color line” and attacked both towns 
and plantations. The South needed its own medical schools, be- 
cause of the peculiarities in southern conditions, and schools in 
southern cities began as early as the twenties; journals were also 
established, of a quality comparable to those of the North. But 
even in the years just before the War southern students in the 
northern medical schools were one of the largest southern groups 
there resident. There was considerable friction; and, especially 
during the fifties, many small schools were founded, with low 
standards. At the same time there were other demoralizing in- 
fluences — the opening-up of the Frontier (from about 1815 on), 
the distrust of orthodox physicians, the demand for doctors of 
any kind. By 1850 everyone was allowed to practice. 

The availability of medical facilities in the South differed 
from their availability in the North chiefly because of two fac- 
tors — the presence of a large slave population and the rural 
character of the southern states, with few cities and with the 
bulk of the population widely scattered. In spite of the com- 
paratively high ratio of physicians to population, one is inclined 
to suspect, in the absence of specific information, that away 
from the older and more settled regions the people in the South 
were likely to be farther away from the nearest physician and 



more dependent upon their own doctoring than was true in the 
North. “Medical therapy consisted chiefly of pukes and purges, 
blood letting, and blistering.” 20 Surgery was still in the hands of 
the general practitioner, although after i860 more attention was 
paid to surgery as a special branch. Operations usually took 
place in the doctor’s office or in the patient’s home. The general 
practitioner also pulled teeth. 

The agreed. charges of the Cahaba (Alabama) Medical Asso- 
ciation in 1854 were: prescription and medicine, $2.00; mileage 
in country, 50 cents a mile (night and inclement weather, dou- 
ble); delivery, $25.00 (instrumental, $40.00); major operation, 
$30.00; minor operation, $5.00; tooth extraction, $1.00; consul- 
tation, $io.oo. 2J The average annual income for country practi- 
tioners in Alabama was said to have been $1,000.00; for small- 
town practitioners $2,000.00“ Throughout the South the char- 
ity practice was large. 

A problem peculiar to the South was that of keeping the slave 
in good health. The Negro, as is well known, is peculiarly sensi- 
tive to diseases of a certain type — tuberculosis, for instance. In 
addition, his going barefoot made him particularly liable to 
hookworm, his restricted diet to other diseases, his working and 
living conditions to malaria, and perhaps his habits to venereal 
diseases. The slave was a valuable piece of property and, with 
all these dangers to be guarded against, it is hardly to be won- 
dered at that many planters and overseers considered sickness 
among their Negroes the greatest problem in plantation man- 
agement. The handling of this problem differed widely from one 
plantation to another, depending upon the number of slaves, the 
location of the plantation, and the availability of trained physi- 
cians, as well as upon the ideas of those in charge. 23 

On some plantations a doctor was employed by the year, 

30 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 749. 

31 Boyd, p. 192. 22 Southern Medical Reports , I, 257, dted by Shryock, p. 173. 

23 Shryock thinks that the health of the slaves has probably been overrated. He 
points out the planters' desire for economy as leading to neglect and stresses the preva- 
lence of uterine diseases and miscarriages, intestinal infections, hernia, and diseases re- 
sulting from lack of sanitation and personal cleanliness (pp. 174-75). 



whose duty it was to look after the health of the slaves and to 
examine them periodically, as well as to come upon call. On 
others a sick nurse, usually the most intelligent woman on the 
place, had full authority, under a physician, over the sick; and 
the physician was called in only for serious cases. On still other 
plantations the master (or the mistress) kept a medical book 
and a supply of the more common medicines and did the doctor- 
ing himself except in the more serious cases; not infrequently the 
planter was the doctor for the whole community, white and 
Negro. Most of the planters seem to have been solicitous about 
their pregnant slaves: lighter duties were given them, their diet 
was more carefully supervised, and the actual delivery was 
looked after by a midwife, white or colored. The large planta- 
tions had their own “hospitals” or sickhouses; on the smaller 
ones the sick slaves stayed in their cabins and were nursed by 
the women in their own family or by those of the planter’s fam- 
ily. Sick slaves were frequently given special diets. On some 
plantations dentists looked after the slaves’ teeth. My impres- 
sion is, however, that on few plantations was much done to in- 
sure the health of the slaves and that all too frequently the 
slaves’ complaints of illness were mistakenly believed to be at- 
tempts to get out of work . 24 

It is even more difficult to generalize in regard to medical 
facilities in the frontier regions than it is for the more settled 
parts of the country. One is inclined to suspect that a large 
number of the physicians going to the new regions went there 
because they could not obtain a practice, or perhaps even legal 
permission to enter the medical profession, in the East. And, 
too, a large number of physicians would be more than offset by 
the sparsity of population. Therefore, probably not much value 
can be attached to the fact that the ratio of physicians to popu- 

34 1 have drawn my conclusions from the following: Bassett, p. 87; Flanders, pp. 162 
ff.; G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 527-28; McDonald, p. 156; Mc- 
Dougle, Journal of Negro History , p. 73; Moody, pp. 82 ff.; Patterson, p. 67; and Phil- 
lips, American Negro Slavery, pp. 251-53; Long, pp. 19, 63; Olmsted, Seaboard Slave 
States , pp. 416, 696, and Back Country , pp. 77-78; Mallard, pp. 32-33; Smedes, passim; 
De Bow’s Review , XXII (1857), 631-32, and XXIV (1858), 321 ff.; De Bow, Industrial 
ResourceSy II, 331-32, and IV, 177; and Starnes, pp. 494 ff. 


lation was higher in the West than for any other part of the 

Of medical practice in rural Illinois, Charles B. Johnson 

The principal diseases these doctors had to contend with were, in the colder 
season, pneumonia, commonly known as “winter fever,” colds, coughs, and 
an occasional frost-bitten limb. In the warmer season, bowel troubles of 
various kinds, such as diarrhoea, dysentery, usually called “bloody flux,” 
“summer complaint,” cholera morbus, etc. 

“Summer complaint” was the warm weather disease that most affected 
infants and was often fatal. Improper food was in most instances the cause 
of cholera morbus in grown people and “summer complaint” in children. 
Violent vomiting attended the inception of many diseases. 

With the approach of the fall months a great many were stricken with 
“chills and fever,” which certain ones always referred to as “ager” and 
others called “the shakes.” Bilious fever was another form of malaria. 
Typhoid fever prevailed to an extent but was never called by that name, but 
was known as “nervous fever,” “slow fever,” “autumnal fever,” etc. 

Among accidents were broken bones, ax-cuts, snake-bites, and lacerated 
wounds from various causes and an occasional bullet wound. 

A boy or girl that had not had measles, scarlet fever, chicken-pox and 
whooping cough was looked upon by his or her associates as little short of 

At times real Asiatic cholera would claim its victims from among the 
residents of the village and surrounding country. When this disease was 
prevailing as an epidemic some one would visit St. Louis, unfortunately con- 
tract the disease and later give it to others. 2 * 

The doctors in that part of the country bled their patients on 
the slightest pretext and did their operating with septic and 
sometimes even rusty lancets. 26 

What sort of medical attention was available in some of the 
newest communities may be judged by the advertisement in a 
Denver paper of April, 1859, announcing that Dr. Peck would 
be “at home when not professionally engaged or digging gold in 
the mountains.” 27 San Francisco, however, had taken on the 

35 Illinois in the Fifties , pp. 128-29; see also p. 118, and chap, xii, “Two Village Doc- 

36 Beveridge, II, 200. For the doctors of Chicago and the facilities there for training 
them see James Nevins Hyde, Early Medical Chicago (Chicago: Fergus Printing Co., 


a 7 Lawrence W. Marshall, “Early Denver History as Told by Newspaper Advertise- 
ments,” Colorado Magazine , VIII (1931), 171. Denver by this time had 13 physicians 
(Villard, Fast and Present , pp. 131-32). 


characteristics of a city, and its medical professional, with soci- 
eties and journals, was much like that of the East. Medical fees 
continued to be higher than in other parts of the country. 28 

Summary . — OneV impression is that by i860 the work of a 
few careful, conscientious students and brilliant scientists had 
brought medicine at least to the threshold of its present “sci- 
entific” stage and that the medical profession had begun to pro- 
vide for itself, chiefly through medical societies and associations, 
the discipline which was plainly necessary if the public was to 
receive the benefit of this advance. But in the United States 
this self-regulation had made little headway, there was almost 
no regulation by the state, and the great mass of the people, if 
their homemade remedies failed them, were most likely to resort 
either to patent medicines or to practitioners of a dubious sort of 
healing. Even if they went to respectable doctors of the ortho- 
dox tradition, the probability was that they intrusted them- 
selves to a man without adequate training or experience. When 
Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, in i860, that “if the whole 
materia medica, as now used , could be sunk to the bottom of the 
sea, it would be all the better for mankind, — and all the worse 
for the fishes,” 29 the statement shocked some of the profession 
but found a good many of its leaders in full agreement. 

And this, it is to be remembered, was a time when the general 
public stood in need of the best medical care obtainable. The 
effects of the lack of physical labor and exercise in the cities 
were coming to be regarded as a serious problem, and the sani- 
tary conditions in those cities were menacing to health. More- 
over, bad cooking, a diet too narrowly limited on the Frontier 
and in parts of the South, too rich in other parts of the country, 
and the national habit of rapid eating, noted by so many travel- 
ers, were bound to result in stomach disorders. In the West the 

28 See the scale of charges quoted from the San Francisco Medical Press (1865) by 
Henry Harris in California's Medical Story (Springfield, 111 .: Charles C. Thomas, 1932), 
P- 183. 

29 The statement was first made in an address before the Massachusetts Medical As- 
sociation, published in the New York Evening Post and reprinted in LittelPs Living Age , 
XI (3d ser., i860), 32; see also Hildegarde Hawthorne, The Happy Autocrat (New York: 
Longmans, Green & Co., 1938), p. 127. 


supposedly strong and healthy frontiersmen were all too often 
the victims of fevers and agues, particularly in the river bottoms 
of the Mississippi and its tributaries. Meanwhile, the people 
continued to regard health and longevity as due to the specific 
physical endowment of each person and to accept their ills as 
sent them by Providence. 

The things one would most like to know — how often doctors 
were called in and how much good they were once they were 
called in — remain elusive. There is every reason to believe that 
even in the Northeast great reliance was placed upon the old 
family remedies and other home medication. In the South this 
was even more true; and few families were without quinine, calo- 
mel, nux vomica, spirits of niter, castor oil, paregoric, laudanum, 
alum, and liniments. Guion Griffis Johnson writes that “the 
average ante-bellum family called a doctor only in an emergency 
or when every other curative means had failed” and that much 
use was made of native remedies, either a matter of family tradi- 
tion or compounded from instructions in almanacs or in books 
on family medicine. 30 In some communities, as I have said, the 
master of the large plantation was not only the doctor for his 
plantation but for the whole community. The services of a doc- 
tor were especially likely to be dispensed with in childbirth 
cases, except in cases of abnormal delivery; the much greater 
number of midwives in the South is significant, however much 
the precise figures may be questioned. In parts of the South, at 
least, the midwife or granny frequently delivered the sons of the 
rich as well as of. the poor, and in few cases was an anesthetic 
used in childbirth. In Illinois the standard remedies for malaria 
were quinine, calomel, and whisky, which anyone could admin- 
ister; and on the Frontier most of the families knew, or thought 
they knew, how to look after at least the more common dis- 
eases. 31 

But with all that has been said to indicate distrust of the 
physician, the fact remains that in the big city the family doctor 

30 Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 752-54. 

31 See Leroy G. Davis, “Frontier Home Remedies and Sanitation,” Minnesota His- 
tory, XIX (1938), 369-76. 


was the trusted confident of his patients and their adviser on 
many problems not much concerned with medicine. In the 
smaller communities the doctor was likely to be respected for 
his training and position, and in rural areas he was a real hero, 
though perhaps not always appreciated. And however much 
some people distrusted the medical profession (as some still do 
today), there were others whose faith in it was unquestioning. 


Hospitals . — We who take hospitals so much for granted must 
find it surprising that there were so few hospitals in the fifties 
and sixties. The Modem Hospital Year Book for 1924 reported 
that in 1873 there were only 149 hospitals and allied institu- 
tions in the country, one-third of them for the insane; fifty 
years later there were 6,76a. The number of beds increased 
during the same-period from 35,453 to 770,375. As late as 1900 
there were only about 1 50 clinics compared with the more than 
5,000 in I9a5. And in certain fields, as tuberculosis sanitariums, 
the entire development has taken place in the twentieth cen- 
tury. 32 

That there were so few hospitals is in large part a reflection of 
the general attitude toward them. People expected to be treat- 
ed, and even to be operated on, in their own homes or in the doc- 
tor’s office. Hospitals and clinics were, at least until the last 
quarter of the century, simply institutions for the relief of the 
sick poor, 33 with the subsidiary function of supplying a place for 
medical education. John Green, whose views on hospital con- 
struction were far in advance of his time, nevertheless wrote 

hospitals are essentially charitable institutions, and the welfare of the pa- 
tients must ever hold the first place in the minds of their founders. Never- 
theless, we must not lose sight of the fact, that they are also our great schools 
of clinical observation and instruction; and have thus, perhaps, rendered 
their most important service to mankind. 3 '* 

31 Cited in Michael M. Davis, Clinics , Hospitals , and Health Centers (New York: 
Harper & Bros., 1927), pp. 4-5. 

33 Ibid., p. 10. 

3 * City Hospitals (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1861), p. 14. 


And W. Gill Wylie, whose book was awarded the Boylston prize 
by Harvard, still believed in 1 877 that hospitals were necessary 
for the destitute sick and for medical education but that, as 
managed, they did more harm than good by removing the 
“healthful stimulus of necessity” essential to recovery. He be- 
lieved we should “limit hospital accommodations to those who 
have no homes and to those who cannot be assisted at their 
homes.” 35 

There was some tendency for people to resort to hospitals for 
serious operations; and in a part of the country where there 
were no hospitals the doctor might provide a miniature hospital 
of his own for the reception and care of his patients, while those 
who could afford it and were able to make the trip might go 
some little distance to a hospital. 36 A number of cities also main- 
tained permanent or temporary isolation hospitals or “pest- 
houses” for persons with communicable diseases. But people 
still associated hospitals with charity and probably had a deep- 
seated, though not always rational, distrust of them. For the 
most part the hospitals of i860 were simply institutions main- 
tained through public or private charity, where the indigent 
poor could be cared for more economically than in their homes. 

This partly accounts for the fact that, while a good deal was 
known about how hospitals should be built (Green’s book is an 
example), in construction, equipment, and hygiene the hospitals 
actually in use fell far short of a desirable standard. Wylie could 
write that previous to 1859 neither England nor the United 
States had a hospital comparing favorably with the plan pro- 
posed by Dr. John Jones in 1773. 37 The incurable, the insane, 
and chronic cases were sent to the same hospitals as were those 
suffering from communicable diseases or in need of operations; 
and the same ward — there were few private rooms, since almost 
all patients were charity patients — might contain several kinds 
of patient. Because of the lack of segregation and because of the 

35 Hospitals : Their History , Organization , and Construction (New York: D. Appleton 
& Co., 1877), pp. 60 and 67. 

36 Cf. G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina^ pp. 743-44. 

37 P.43. 


failure to take even the most obvious sanitary precautions, epi- 
demics broke out from time to time within the hospital walls 
and made it necessary to close even such hospitals as the Massa- 
chusetts General and the public hospital in Baltimore. The out- 
patient clinics were then, and remained throughout the century, 
hardly better than prescription mills, which without even a pre- 
tense of adequate diagnosis passed out prescriptions which 
might do the patients as much harm as good. 38 

The Massachusetts General Hospital, though one of the best, 
made no attempt to classify or segregate its patients, and the 
general sanitary conditions were none too good. During i860, 
1,394 patients were treated, 1,137 °f them wholly free (no one 
was refused admission, whether or not he could pay anything), 
and about two-fifths of them Irish immigrants. 39 The out- 
patient department, by 1858, had 1,574 patients and a special 
physician. 40 Boston had also a lying-in hospital, likewise pri- 
vately endowed and maintained, and a hospital used by the 
state to care for immigrants who were ill when they arrived. 
These were about the only hospitals in New England. 

New York’s Bellevue Hospital was a dilapidated building, 
with many additions, having an 800-bed capacity and admitting 
7,000 or 8,000 pauper patients a year. There were no night 
nurses, the day nurses were ignorant and overworked, and the 
sanitary conditions were shocking. 41 The New York Hospital 
was better, and St. Luke’s Hospital was one of the city’s show 
places. There were a number of other hospitals, public and pri- 
vate, in New York City and Brooklyn and several others, most 
of them small and totally inadequate, elsewhere in the state. 

The Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia had in i860 a his- 
tory of over a century, but its capacity was still only 200 or 300 
beds; from 1851 to 1855 the hospital received 8,845 patients, of 

3 * M. M. Davis, p. 15. 

39 Massachusetts General Hospital, Report of the Board of Trustees for the Year i860 
(Boston, 1861). 

4« "The Outpatient Department,” Massachusetts General Hospital: Memorial and 
Historical Volume (Boston, 1921), pp. 153-56. 

4 1 Cf. Wylie, pp. 3- 4 and 187; also Packard, I, 253-61. One of the sensational news 
stories of i860 was the eating of a newly bom child by rats in Bellevue. 


whom 6,1 17 were charity and 1,728 paying patients. 42 Philadel- 
phia paupers were for the most part treated at the Philadelphia 
Hospital, which was a part of the Almshouse; patients were 
overcrowded, poorly fed, and improperly mingled, and the sani- 
tary conditions there were as bad as, or worse than, those of the 
hospitals of Boston and New York. Nevertheless, in January, 
1858, there were 3,000 inmates, and many were being refused 
admission. 43 There were several smaller hospitals, and the Epis- 
copal Hospital (built in i860) was probably the best-constructed 
hospital in the country. 

There were hospitals, of a sort, in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, De- 
troit, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and other northern cities. 
Several of them were conducted under the auspices of the Cath- 
olic church. 

Baltimore had a public hospital, its sanitary condition as bad 
as those existing elsewhere, which served as a hospital for the 
poor and sometimes as a pesthouse. There were a few small 
hospitals in Baltimore, perhaps one in Richmond, one in 
Charleston, one in Savannah, one in Mobile, and two or three 
small ones in Louisville. Elsewhere in the South there were no 
regular hospitals except in New Orleans, where the Charity 
Hospital, admitting annually more than 11,000 patients, was 
one of the worst in the country. 44 

There were two or three hospitals in San Francisco, and Sac- 
ramento and Los Angeles each had a hospital of a sort. In addi- 
tion to these hospitals there were, scattered over the country, 
several United States marine hospitals, maintained by the fed- 
eral government for the benefit of sick sailors and paid for out of 

42 Scharf and Wescott, II, 1670-72; see also Thomas G. Morton, The History of the 
Pennsylvania Hospital , 1751-1895 (rev. ed. ; Phi Iadelphi a : Times Printing House, 1 897) ; 
and Packard, I, 181-230. 

43 Charles Lawrence, History of the Philadelphia Almshouses and Hospitals from the 
Beginning of the Eighteenth to the Ending of the Nineteenth Centuries ([Philadelphia], 
1905), passim; see also D. Hayes Agnew et al^ Hi story and Reminiscences of the Philadel- 
phia Almshouse and Philadelphia Hospital (Philadelphia: Detre & Blackburn, 1890); 
and Packard, I, 246-50. 

44 Elizabeth Wisner, Public Welfare Administration in Louisiana (Chicago: Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press, 1930), pp. 38-49; see also Packard, I, 261-65. 


a ao-cent-a-month fee deducted from their wages. Aside from 
the lying-in hospitals (there were such hospitals in Boston, New 
York, and Philadelphia, and perhaps in other cities), the only 
hospitals specializing in a specific sort of patient were the eye 
and ear hospitals, in New London, New York, Philadelphia, 
Boston, Baltimore, and Chicago. 45 

Dispensaries . — In the very largest cities there were dispen- 
saries where the poor could secure medical advice and prescrip- 
tions. The Boston Dispensary, in 1859, treated 14,426 patients 
and filled 34,685 prescriptions. 46 New York City’s five largest 
dispensaries in 1859 treated 134,468 persons, filled 262,683 pre- 
scriptions, and vaccinated 12,667 persons; 47 and there was a 
number of smaller dispensaries. There were dispensaries in Phil- 
adelphia; and dispensaries were conducted in connection with 
hospitals in Chicago, St. Louis, and Baltimore. Apparently some 
other cities had dispensaries, although I find no clear record of 

Other medical care for the poor . — There was no public health 
nursing in the United States until 1877, 48 nor was there any sub- 
stitute, except as charitable institutions or persons might look 
after the health of their clients. 

In the North, except in the larger cities, the sick poor were 
cared for much as were other poor. The township or county 
might contract for medical services for all its poor, might pay for 
individual service, or might contract its poor out and let the 
contractor see to the medical attention. In many states the sick 
poor were cared for in poorhouses or on poor farms, and, in a 
few, special infirmaries were built. There were a few local ex- 
ceptions, but in general the treatment was inadequate and some- 
times brutal. 

4s For these hospitals see Alvin A. Hubbell, The Development of Ophthalmology in 
America , 1800 to 1870 (Chicago: W. T. Keener & Co., 1908), pp. 17-36 , 1 58 ff.; and the 
reports of the hospitals themselves. 

* 6 Boston Dispensary, By-laws and Statement of Operations for the Year Ending 
October i } 1859 (Boston: John Wilson & Son, i860), pp. 11-12, 25-26. 

47 American Medical Times , I (i860), 284. 

& Ravenal, p. 441. 



The feeble-minded and insane . — It is very difficult for a lay- 
man to know what to say about the treatment of the mentally 
defective in the fifties. It is difficult to find out what those best 
informed believed about the proper handling of such persons 
and still more difficult to find out how far practice had changed 
in conformance with these beliefs. While lunatic asylums had 
ceased to be regarded as places to go for an afternoon’s amuse- 
ment, there can be no doubt that the inmates were usually ill 
cared for and not infrequently mistreated. 

During the thirties and forties there were persistent attempts 
on the part of earnest reformers, the best-known of them being 
Miss Dorothea Dix, to better the condition of insane patients. 
Their investigations revealed many instances in which the in- 
sane were horribly mistreated and called attention to the fact 
that the insane and the idiotic were for the most part confined in 
poorhouses, with orphans, the aged, the infirm, drunkards, and 
sufferers from all sorts of diseases. This condition seems to have 
been quite generally true in the fifties, also. But during the for- 
ties doctors from some of the leading American institutions had 
visited Europe and studied the most approved practices; on 
their return they had designed better hospitals and better sys- 
tems of treatment. When the institutions were under the charge 
of those who were trained in their profession, the patients were 
treated with kindness: every effort was made to build up their 
health, regular hours were insisted upon, and work and recrea- 
tion provided. 

By i860 only about half-a-dozen states and territories were 
without institutions for the insane and the feeble-minded. Some 
were public, some private, and in a few of the private ones the 
poor were maintained at the expense of the state. As far as one 
can judge, however, only a very small proportion of the men- 
tally defective were in special institutions; by far the greater 
number of them were cared for at home, and most of those who 
were public charges were kept in county jails, houses of correc- 
tion, and poorhouses. The asylums and hospitals for the insane 



were overcrowded, there was lack of proper segregation, and 
they exhibited all the evils resulting from lack of knowledge and 
lack of money. 

The deaf , dumb, and blind . — There were in i860 about 20 spe- 
cial institutions where the deaf and dumb could be cared for, 
and more than 20 for the blind. Only a very small proportion of 
the deaf, dumb, and blind could be accepted by these institu- 
tions, nor was there much that could be done for those admitted 
except to feed and clothe them. There was no use of Braille, and 
the few books published in raised letters for the blind were pro- 
hibitively expensive. There was little vocational training for the 
blind, and such attempts as were made to improve their condi- 
tion usually consisted in such things as literary and musical ven- 
tures. The deaf, the dumb, and the blind were all of them, like 
the mentally defective, kept at home unless they became public 
charges, in which case they were more likely to be kept in the 
poorhouse than in a special institution. 


Control of communicable diseases . — Most dreaded of the epi- 
demic diseases were cholera and yellow fever. Severe epidemics 
of cholera spread across the country in 1849 an d 1854 — there 
were local epidemics in other years — starting in the South and 
extending all the way to New England; thousands died in the 
big cities. There was no known precaution to take — crude at- 
tempts at fumigation and fasting and prayer were the best that 
could be done. Yellow fever was the perennial scourge of the 
South. In the 1853 epidemic there were 30,000 cases in New 
Orleans alone, 7,000 or 8,000 dying. During the fifties there 
were repeated epidemics in the South, that of 1 855 taking thou- 
sands of lives in Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia. Even north- 
ern cities — Chicago, Philadelphia, New York — were occasion- 
ally attacked. Since the cause of yellow fever was still unknown, 
there was no consensus as to what to do about it. As late as 
1878-79 yellow fever could kill 4,000 in Memphis in a single epi- 
demic; and not until then were determined efforts made to pre- 
vent similar outbreaks in the future. 



Typhoid fever was an unduly prevalent and fatal concomitant 
of civilization; the proximate cause of it was known, but its 
specific cause had not been discovered. In New York City, in 
the early sixties, there were as many as 1 2,000 cases a year. Epi- 
demics of typhus fever were also common and broke out from 
time to time in New York City even in the sixties; meanwhile, 
the city police had no authority to abate nuisances in tenement 

Smallpox was still widely prevalent; the prejudice against 
vaccination had not died out, and only rarely was there a local 
vaccination requirement — and, for that matter, the method of 
vaccination was still far from perfect. Seaports were particular- 
ly subject to smallpox epidemics, though in the light of the un- 
sanitary conditions of the cities they could hardly put all the 
blame on immigrants. In the South and West malaria was so 
prevalent as to be taken for granted, and in a large part of the 
country many had frequent attacks of ague. Diphtheria was 
not believed to be communicable, and no precautions were tak- 
en against its spread. Scarlet fever levied a heavy toll, and dys- 
entery struck whole communities from time to time. Tubercu- 
losis was still believed to be incurable and was consequently 
both more prevalent and more often fatal than is easily believed. 
Sporadic outbreaks of erysipelas troubled the cities. 

There were no state boards of health in i860, and the city 
health administrations, where they existed, had little knowledge 
of how to go about preventing the spread of epidemic diseases. 
As a result there were few, if any, places where reporting of dis- 
ease was carefully observed, though in some cities certification 
as to cause of death was a legal requirement. Voluntary report- 
ing was nowhere a success; but in Baltimore, for instance, it was 
not until 188a that laws were passed requiring prompt reporting 
of even certain acute febrile diseases, and not until 1890 were 
the whole list of communicable diseases reported in considerable 
numbers. 49 

Maritime quarantine was apparently a general practice long 
before other forms of quarantine were thought necessary. At all 

4 * Howard, pp. 108 and 150. 



important seaports there were facilities for the inspection of 
vessels, crews, and passengers, sometimes quarantine hospitals, 
sometimes a compulsory vaccination requirement. It is impos- 
sible at this late date to evaluate the efficiency of these quaran- 
tine administrations, but in many instances they seem not to 
have been very effective. In the few cities where house quaran- 
tine was a legal requirement there seems to have been little at- 
tempt to enforce it. More common was the maintenance of a 
special pesthouse for the isolation of the victims of epidemics; 
even these were usually opened only after the epidemic had be- 
come serious. Persons carrying the germs of smallpox and other 
diseases were free to walk the streets, ride the horsecars, attend 
school and public gatherings. 

Practice in regard to vaccination differed widely among the 
various states and cities. Almost nowhere was vaccination com- 
pulsory; but, while the number of deaths from smallpox seems 
high by twentieth-century standards, it was much lower than 
would have been thought possible a generation earlier. Massa- 
chusetts had seemingly rigorous vaccination requirements, but 
they did not keep Boston from being one of the focal points for 
the spread of smallpox; in New York few were vaccinated ex- 
cept in periods of public alarm. In the country as a whole there 
was apparently just enough vaccination to prevent epidemics of 
serious proportions, and such epidemics as did break qut were 
checked by voluntary or mandatory vaccination on a large 

Municipal cleanliness . — A major problem of public health, 
and one which grew more serious from year to year, was that of 
disposing of the contents of privies. Water closets were still lux- 
uries, and even in the larger cities only the well-to-do had them. 
In rural districts the privies were seldom a menace to health, 
but in the crowded tenement districts of the large cities the un- 
cared-for privies poured their contents over the courts, streets, 
and alleys; and even in the better sections they were likely to 
overflow or to drain into the water supply. In some cities the 
public authorities could condemn as nuisances overflowing privy 
vaults and regulate the cleaning of vaults and removal of their 


contents. In others property-owners did as they pleased. In 
such cities as New York the rotting heaps of animal manure 
were another menace to public health. 

The lack of facilities for the disposal of garbage and other 
household refuse was hardly less serious. In most of the larger 
cities the garbage was collected twice a week or oftener, either by 
a contractor or by the city, and used to feed pigs; dry refuse was 
also carted away and usually sold as dirt for filling in land. But 
even in these cities the removal was inefficient (in New York 
overflowing boxes of garbage and ashes stood in the streets, 
while in the tenement districts streets were inches deep in gar- 
bage; in Chicago refuse from one section of the city was fre- 
quently dumped into another), and in many there was no sys- 
tem at all for the removal of refuse. Garbage was thrown into 
the streets and alleys; and pigs and dogs, in cities from New 
York down, served as scavengers. In some cities the scavengers 
were geese, and in many southern cities buzzards cleaned up the 

One is accustomed to think of sewers as a development cen- 
turies old, and it comes as something of a shock to learn that as 
late as i860 hardly an American city had an adequate drainage 
system, even for storm water. J. J. Cosgrove writes: 

Reliable data concerning the construction of sewers were not obtainable 
in the United States until long after the close of the Civil War. In 1859, 
when Julius W. Adams was commissioned to prepare plans for sewering the 
city of Brooklyn, N.Y., which at that time covered an area of twenty square 
miles, a great proportion of which was suburban territory, the engineering 
profession was wholly without data of any kind in proportioning sewers for 
the drainage of cities and towns. 50 

That is not to say that sewers were then unknown in this coun- 
try. Boston had a sewer system, of sorts, which dated from the 
seventeenth century; in contrast was the system — the first com- 
prehensive sewerage project of the country — which E. S. Ches- 
brough had designed for Chicago in 1855. Several cities during 
the fifties sponsored research commissions on sewerage engineer- 
ing. But the neglect of drainage and sewerage continued, in 

50 History of Sanitation (Pittsburgh*. Standard Sanitary Mfg. Co., 1909), p. 87, 


the main, until the epidemic of yellow fever in Memphis in 1879 
disclosed the unsanitary condition of that city and led other 
cities to re-examine their own conditions. 

The sewerage systems of Boston, New York, and Philadel- 
phia drained only parts of those cities; many of the sewers and 
inlets were clogged, and the systems were so poorly designed 
that the stench issuing from the inlets and outlets was almost 
intolerable. Brooklyn and Chicago were building new systems, 
but they were still inadequate — by 1866 only an eighth of the 
city was served by Chicago’s sewers. Elsewhere in the country 
most cities and towns had only surface drainage; in others 
storm-water sewers drained parts of the town; in still others 
there were privately owned systems or public sewers to which 
property-owners could connect their private drains. 

In only the biggest cities was there much paving, and even in 
these the streets were always filthy. In Philadelphia and New 
York the city contracted for the cleaning of the streets; but in 
New York, at least, the contractors failed to carry out their 
duties faithfully, and property-owners sometimes had to hire 
the streets cleaned. In Boston the city did its own street-clean- 
ing, but the results were not much better. Baltimore, in the 
fifties, put street-cleaning in charge of the commissioner of 
health. In few other cities was there any official action at all. 

The sanitary condition of buildings . — That the medical pro- 
fession, and with it enlightened public opinion, was beginning 
to recognize the dangers to health lurking in the tenements is 
abundantly illustrated in the reports of private and public agen- 
cies interested in the tenement problem. But, in view of the lack 
of progress made in general health administration, it is not sur- 
prising that little was done to improve tenement conditions or 
to abate the nuisances existing in other forms of private prop- 
erty. In New York “great blocks of slums were owned by men 
who resisted all sanitary improvements by securing from the 
Tammany-ridden city health department appointments as 
‘health officers’ in a system of sanitary police provided for in 
i86o.” SI Pressure for improvement in New York resulted, in 

51 A. C. Cole, pp. 181-82. 



i866 3 in the creation by the State of the Metropolitan Health 
Board. That board found New York City with 1 8,582 tenement 
houses; and its first investigation revealed more than half of 
these in bad sanitary condition, a third suffering from over- 
crowding, accumulated filth, lack of a water supply, and other 
defects. 52 But the police had no authority to abate nuisances in 
infected tenements, and the epidemics of typhus fever during 
the sixties were blamed on tenement conditions. 53 In 1866 the 
“first resting place and permanent abode of cholera’’ was in the 
tenements. 54 The first Tenement House Law, in 1879, did hard- 
ly more than attempt to legislate out of existence interior un- 
ventilated rooms in future construction. Legislation regarding 
light requirements came even later, and not until 1901 were 
water closets required. 55 

Other cities had the same problems, especially such cities as 
Providence, Boston, Lowell, Philadelphia, and the others into 
which new immigrants were steadily pouring. Massachusetts 
and Pennsylvania gave the cities some police powers to abate 
nuisances, but there is nothing to indicate that any effective ac- 
tion was taken. Not until later in the century did any city begin 
to take much interest in the relations between buildings and 

Regulation of food and markets . — There was a great deal of 
adulteration of food in the fifties; its retail sale was frequently 
made under unsanitary conditions, and the wholesale markets 
were many of them filthy. Much of the milk supply of the cities 
came from swill-milk establishments — dairies within the cities 
which fed their cows chiefly on distillery refuse; the unsanitary 
condition of these dairies often menaced the city’s health both 
by polluting the atmosphere and by Infecting the milk. The 
dangers of failure to provide safeguards for the food supply were 
coming to be recognized, but as yet little was being done to 
remedy the situation. New York’s city inspector, to judge by 

53 Edward B. Dalton, “Annual Report of the Metropolitan Board of Health,” North 
American Review, CVI (1868), 355. 

» Ravenal, pp. 4-5. 

54 Dalton, p. 358. 

55 Ravenal, pp. 325-29. 



his reports, was making some progress in his efforts to rid the 
city of unhealthful meat and other food, but he still found much 
to complain of in the city’s markets. Some other cities exer- 
cised a degree of control over their food supplies, 56 but there 
seems to have been little official restraint. 

Regulation of offensive trades . — Industrial hazards to public 
health were making themselves felt in i860. Gas fumes and 
smoke nuisances were not the serious menaces they became 
later, but other forms of business did contribute problems which 
few communities had attempted to solve — slaughterhouses, liv- 
ery stables, rendering plants, even junk and manure heaps were 
without regulation, and except in a few of the largest cities ani- 
mals had the freedom of the streets. The slaughterhouse was 
perhaps the most conspicuous of these evils. From the smallest 
communities to the largest cities the meat supply came from the 
slaughterhouses, located within its limits and subject to little if 
any regulation. 

In New York slaughterhouses were to be found in all parts of 
the city; blood ran over the floors and out into the streets. 57 
There were manure heaps near crowded parts of town, and — 
until 1859 — piggeries and offal-boiling establishments within the 
city. The fat-boiling establishments, the downtown livery sta- 
bles, the driving of cattle and hogs through crowded streets, the 
swill-milk stables, the gas-manufacturing plants — all needed at- 
tention. These problems were common to all large cities, while 
in such cities as Pittsburgh smoke had already become a serious 

The public health movement . — A few cities had boards of health 
in i860 — there were boards in Philadelphia and Boston, rather 

s6 “Food inspection began to assume an importance unknown in the first years of 
[Chicago’s] municipal life. In 1857 the legislature provided for a city fish inspector to 
determine and certify the weight, condition, and content of barrels of fish shipped. Other 
barreled foods such as meal, flour, salt pork, and beef also were inspected under the 
regulations of the council. Bread, too, came within the list of foods regulated, an act of 
1861 prescribing the weight and quality of loaves; in the ’sixties milk was examined; 
and in 1870 an ordinance required that skimmed milk be so labeled” (Pierce, II, 335). 

57 J n such western packing centers as Chicago the packing-houses and slaughter- 
houses were a still greater problem than in the East, while any attempt at solution 
seemed Hkely to interfere with the dries’ prosperity (cf. Pierce, II, 336-37). 



ephemeral boards were set up in Chicago from time to time, and 
a few smaller cities had health administrations— but not until 
1869 (in Massachusetts) was there a state board of health. Once 
that beginning had been made, the idea spread rapidly; when 
Connecticut established its Board in 1878 there were already 

TABLE 7 * 

Mortality Rates in Seven Cities 

i860 and 1930 


Deaths per Thousand 
of Population 

Before i860 



20.0 (1858) 

25.1 (1855) 
36.9 (1857) 
27.6 (1857) 
27.6 (1850) 
20.7(1860) | 



14. 1 

New York Cityf 







Chicago j 

St. Louis 


•The 1930 figures are from U.S . Statistical Abstract, LVII 
(1935), p. 84, Table 79. Figures for the earlier period come from 
New York State Senate, Report of Selected Committee Appointed 
To Investigate the Health Department of the City of Hew York , pp. 
10-11; Annual Report of the Association for Improving the Condi- 
tion of the Poor for the Year i8$q, p. 26; Isaac D. Rawlings, The 
Rise and Fall of Disease in Illinois (Springfield, 111.: Schnepp & 
Barnes, 1927-28), 1, 1 07; Andreas, II, 555 ;One Hundred Years of 
Medicine and Surgery in Missouri (St. Louis: St. Louis Star, 
1900), p. 158. In each case the rate is for an. apparently “normal” 
year — there were higher rates in epidemic years. 

f New York City’* rate was high for all years (the average 
for 1861-65 was 38.0). Note, however, the comment of the city 
inspector in his report for i860: the death rate was hi^h because 
of more complete returns and because of the inclusion in the 
city’s totals of those found dead on near-by waters, steamship 
and railroad routes, etc. 

16 others in existence. 58 In the fifties and early sixties there was 
no public health “movement”; there was only a continuous agi- 
tation for reform on the part of a few physicians, the newspa- 
pers, citizens’ associations, charitable and philanthropic insti- 
tutions, and other public-spirited groups. 

A comparison of death rates before and after the achieve- 
ments of the public health movement (see Table 7) is not with- 

C.-E. A. Winslow, The Evolution and Significance of the Modem Public Health Cam- 
paign (New Haven; Yale University Press, 1923), p. 26). 



out significance* although it must be remembered that no al- 
lowance has been made for changes in age and sex distributions 
and that the earlier reports are incomplete and inaccurate, 


Visitors from abroad were interested in the funeral proces- 
sions they saw in the United States. The lodges* the military 
and fire companies* and other societies conducted funerals for 
their members; and not infrequently the big black hearse* its 
plate-glass sides revealing the ornamented coffin within, would 
be accompanied by a long procession of marching men* with 
perhaps a band. The English were likely to be distressed* how- 
ever* at the forthright manner in which the business aspect of 
death and burial was treated. 59 J. D. Burns put the cost of a 
“decent burial” at $25-^30* and one for the “proud” at $50- 
$ 100 . This seems a conservative statement. 60 

Until the thirties little attention was paid to cemeteries; and 
the usual burial places were desolate graveyards* overgrown 
with grass and weeds and neglected; usually their fences were 
dilapidated* the headstones fallen* the tombs crumbling. But* 
beginning in 1837, more and more cemeteries were carefully laid 
out and landscaped — indeed* these cemeteries* such as Boston’s 
Mount Auburn* New York’s Greenwood* Philadelphia’s Laurel 
Hill* Cincinnati’s Spring Grove* and others* seem to have been 
the predecessors of and the inspiration for the public parks 
which came later. Paupers were buried in plots on county poor 
farms* or in “potter’s fields” — New York City was burying near- 
ly three thousand a year in its new pauper cemetery on Ward’s 

s* Disher, pp. 235-36; Duncan, pp. 23, 235-36; Burns, pp. 112-13; see also Beadle, 

p. 8. 

60 See the estimates cited in Frederick L. Hoffman, Pauper Burials and the Interment 
of the Head in Large Cities; Address Read at the National Conference of Social Work y At- 
lantic City y June 1911. The common charge for burial in Boston in 1850 was as fol- 
lows: rights in public tomb, $6.00; pane coffin, $7.00; city registrar’s and undertaker’s 
fees, $6.00. This was a total of $19.00, exclusive of carriage and extras. A family lot at 
Mount Auburn was $100.00, and the expense of burial there about $1 5. 00, besides the 
cost of carriages (ihid. y p. 25). A “typical” funeral in 1853 would cost about $84.00, in- 
cluding rosewood coffin, undertaker’s charges, hearse and three carriages, and other in- 
cidentals (p. 39). 




Travel in the fifties . — In the early years of the nineteenth cen- 
tury the people of the United States had been provincial in their 
outlook. Insularity was forced upon them by their poverty and 
by the lack of good roads. These people knew only their own 
communities; they were as ignorant of the next state as they 
were of foreign countries. Their loyalties were to township (or 
to county or some other local subdivision) and to state rather 
than to the United States. 

By the middle of the century this insularity, this provincial- 
ity — and there was much that was good about it — was being 
pretty well broken down. First, the turnpike and the stage- 
coach, then the steamboat, and then the railroad had made it 
possible for people to travel. Travel, in comparison with what it 
had always been before, became cheap, convenient, comfortable, 
and rapid. I am here interested only in the availability of pas- 
senger transportation as a part of the level of living; the effects 
of these changes in transportation in bringing about new ways 
of thinking and in hastening a spirit of restlessness, a desire to 
be always on the move, are of much greater significance, al- 
though I can say nothing about them here. 

The railroad . — In i860 there were 30,000 miles of railroad in 
operation; in 1850 there had been only 9,000, but the expansion 
of the railroads continued well into the twentieth century, 
reaching 264,000 miles in 1920. 

By 1861, eight roads linked the Atlantic and the Mississippi; Boston, New 
York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore all being termini of trunk lines while, in 
the South, the Western and Atlantic of Georgia tied Atlanta into the Mis- 
sissippi Basin via the Nashville and Chattanooga, and the Richmond and 
Charleston went westward via the Nashville and Chattanooga, the Central 
Virginia and the Southside Railroad. The attainment of the Mississippi by 



the Memphis and Charleston, in 1859, climaxed the South’s expansion — one 
which totaled some 8,000 miles of steel between the Ohio and the Gulf of 
Mexico. In the Mississippi Valley itself, in addition to the Illinois Central, 
the important roads, out of many, were the Mobile and Ohio, and the New 
Orleans, Jackson and Northern, the latter connecting with the Mississippi 
Central. To the north, the Michigan Central and the Michigan Southern 
roads raced spectacularly westward from Ohio, reaching Chicago only 
forty-eight hours apart. 1 

The northern system was the more complete: there were few 
places, except in the most outlying states, as much as twenty- 
five miles from a railroad. The South’s achievements, measured 
in miles, were smaller, but the South’s area and population were 
also smaller. “By i860 every province of the South east of the 
Mississippi had been put in railway communication with every 
other province and with the outside world.” 2 The West was also 
fairly well served: by 1860, railroads from the Great Lakes 
touched the Mississippi at ten points and the Ohio at eight; west 
of the Mississippi there were a number of lines extending into 
Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri and a few miles of construction 
in Arkansas. 

Railroad construction had begun with the construction of 
short, local lines, either bringing cities into closer contact with 
their rural markets or connecting near-by cities. Despite a tend- 
ency toward consolidation during the fifties — the New York 
Central and the Pennsylvania systems were the accomplishment 
of that decade — there were still more than 300 lines in i860. It 
was still impossible to go from Boston to New York or from 
New York or Philadelphia to Washington without changing 
trains, and travel between New York and Chicago involved 
several changes. One could travel by rail all the way from New 
Orleans to Portland, Maine, but to do so one had to use thirteen 
different roads. The only point of physical contact between the 
railroads of the North and those of the South was the Louisville 
and Nashville at Bowling Green. 

1 William H. Clark, Railroads and Rivers (Boston: L. C. Page & Co., 1939), pp. 154- 
55 * 

2 U. B. Phillips, “Transportation in the Ante-bellum South,” Quarterly Journal of 
Economics , XIX (1905), 451. 



The lack of integrated systems was complicated by the lack 
of a standard gauge — in i860 eleven different gauges were still 
in use in the North. Travel between Lake Erie and Lake Michi- 
gan involved five complete changes of trains , and even the 
Pennsylvania had to change at Pittsburgh. This and other de- 
ficiencies of the railroads were being rectified during the fifties, 
though not a great deal had been accomplished by the end of the 
decade. One notes, for instance, a tendency toward the use of a 
standard gauge of four feet, eight and a half inches and toward 
using T-rails on wooden crossties. While practically all lines 
were still burning wood, there were frequent experiments with 
coal as fuel. A few splendid terminals had been built; but in 
general the railroads still suffered from deficiencies of station, 
depot, and terminal facilities. Roadbeds also left much to be 
desired, from the standpoint either of comfort or of safety, de- 
spite improvements in ties, ballast, chairs, frogs, switches, and 
crossings. Approaches to the big cities were usually double- 
tracked, but as yet no railroad was double-tracked over its en- 
tire length. Automatic signals of a sort were in use, and most 
of the northern lines (few in the South) were using the telegraph 
in train control. A number of important railroad bridges had 
been built 3 and a few tunnels; but many of the most important 
crossings — such as those over the Delaware and the Susque- 
hanna and over the Hudson at Albany — still required ferries. 

Allan Nevins describes the train of the middle fifties as a curi- 
ous affair: rough wooden cars heated by stoves, wood-burning 
locomotives with big-bellied smokestacks and drive-wheels still 
often at the front instead of the back, hand brakes, uneven cou- 
plings, and bumpy tracks. 4 The passenger car of the fifties had 
a body about fifty feet long, ten feet wide, and seven feet high, 
seating about sixty persons. The seats were cushioned, and the 
cars warmed, ventilated, and lighted; but they needed better 
springing, reclining seats, and better arrangements for braking, 

3 See T. C. Clarke, “Railway-engineering in the United States,” Atlantic Monthly , II 
(1858), 647-48. 

4 Allan Nevins, Abram S. Hewitt: With Some Account of Peter Cooper (New York: 

Harper & Bros., 1935), P« I 5 ^* * 1 


coupling, heating, and lighting. A new passenger car adopted by 
the Erie in 1856 was sixty feet, three inches long and ten feet, 
nine inches wide; its height at the center was seven inches great- 
er than that of any previous car. There were twenty windows 
on each side — single-plate, double-thick French glass, seventeen 
by twenty-one inches — and two windows at each end. Seventy- 
four passengers could be seated, two of them in the “saloon.” It 
had large and easy reclining seats, splendidly upholstered, and 
an improved system of ventilation powered by a friction wheel 
on the axle — but it was still using rubber springs. 5 On some 
roads the new cars were being equipped with water closets and 
lavatories. Most of the cars in use, however, were older models; 
and those off the trunk lines were likely to be uncomfortable, 
poorly heated and ventilated, and dirty. Conductors had not 
yet been put in uniform and seem to have had little interest in 
the comfort and convenience of the passengers. Also present 
were the vendors of books, newspapers, and magazines, of fruits, 
candies, knickknacks of all kinds, and of patent medicines ; some 
lines had boys pass through the cars with glasses of free ice 

This single type of car was still, in the main, expected to ac- 
commodate all classes of passengers and to serve for both day 
and night service, although by i860 various types of special 
cars had begun to appear. In the late fifties some of the lines 
put on smoking cars. Despite the common belief that sleeping 
cars were not commonly used until Pullman built his “Pioneer” 
in the sixties, by the late fifties all main lines were using sleeping 
cars on all their night trains. These cars, it is true, were a far 
cry from the modern Pullman. They were cars of ordinary size 
provided with three rows of bunks on each side; usually mat- 
tresses were furnished but seldom much in the way of bed cloth- 
ing, and there was not a great deal of privacy. But the design of 
sleeping cars was being continually improved, and some of those 

s J. L. Ringwalt, Development of Transportation Systems in the United States (Phila- 
delphia: The Author, 1888), p. 163. For a more technical description of the American 
railroad car of the fifties see the report of Captain Galton, quoted in James McMillan, 
“American Car Building,” One Hundred Years of American Commerce , 1 , 115-16. 



in use by i860 must have been fairly comfortable. On some 
trains there were special coaches assigned to women passengers. 
The dining car had not yet made its appearance, and passengers 
had to take their meals at restaurants at or near the stations. 

Although Robert Ferguson in the early sixties thought the 
speed of English trains exceeded that of American trains by 40 
per cent, 6 running speeds had during the fifties been increased to 
about thirty miles an hour. 7 With these higher speeds came 
many serious accidents, which received much space in the peri- 
odicals of the time and led to futile attempts to secure safety by 
legal enactments. The number of accidents, however, seems to 
have been reduced steadily during the fifties. 8 

The finest trains were the expresses of the Northeast. Both 
the New York Central and the Pennsylvania scheduled 40-mile- 
an-hour trains between New York and Chicago by 1861, 9 
though speeds of 25 and 30 miles an hour were more common. 
Trains over the newly constructed lines in the Frontier not only 
were rough riding, because of the hasty construction, but were 
slower, sometimes running only eight or nine miles an hour. 
Southern trains also were neither so comfortable nor so attrac- 
tive in appearance as those of the North and were, for the most 
part, slower. Running speeds of 15-20 miles an hour seem to 
have been usual, with some trains still slower. 10 In all parts of 
the country travelers were subject to frequent delays because 

6 America during and after the War (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 
1866), p. 17. 

7 A. C. Cole, p. 1 8. 

8 See the statistics given in Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXVIII (1858), 240; 
XLII (i860), 253; and XLIV (1861), 249. 

9 Carl R. Fish, “The Northern Railroads, April, 1861,” American Historical Review, 
XXII (1917), 789. The average rate of speed, including stops, of New York passenger 
trains was 20.51 m.p.h.; not including stops, 24.78 m.p.h. The average rate of speed of 
passenger expresses was 26.27 m.p.h., including stops, or 30.41 m.p.h., not including 
stops (. Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, XL [i860], 499, from report of the state engineer, 
year ending September 30, 1859). See also the schedules in such guides as Appleton's 
Illustrated Railway and Steam Navigation Guide (New York: D. Appleton & Co.) and 
Lloyd's Steamboat and Railroad Guide (New York: W. Alvin Lloyd), for i860. 

10 Olmsted's travels provide the best source of information on southern railroads. 


they had to change trains, and, with as few trains a day as there 
were, missed connections were exasperating. 11 

Passenger fares were highly variable, although usually rang- 
ing between 2 and 3 cents a mile. Competition, by water or by 
another railroad, might drive fares down, especially during 
sporadic price wars, 12 while roads with a monopoly in their terri- 
tory might charge rather more than 3 cents a mile. The rate 
schedules in the railroad guides indicate that most roads charged 
between 2 and 3 cents, while some branch lines charged between 
3 and 4 cents; Southern railroads were more likely to have higher 
rates, sometimes as high as cents a mile. 13 Captain Galton, in 
his report to the (British) Board of Trade in 1857, put the first- 
class fare at 2 cents, second-class at 1 cent, and third-class at 
f of a cent. 14 

The one-class system was characteristic, but, as the Galton 
report indicates, it was not universal. Fares on the Albany and 
Boston-Western Railroad, in 1 860, were 2 J-3 cents for first class 
and about 2^-2 j cents a mile for second class. The Boston and 

11 There were seven trains daily each way between New York and Philadelphia, 
three each way between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (advertisement in Freedley, Lead- 
ing Pursuits, p. 522), but such schedules were unusual. 

13 Beste was carried from Buffalo to Sandusky by boat and from Sandusky to Cin- 
cinnati by rail, a total of 458 miles, for only $3. 00. This included a stateroom and meals 
on the boat and first-class accommodations on the railroad (Beste, I, 172). 

In the absence of any public regulation the railroads charged high rates when they 
thought the public would pay them, and there were occasional rate agreements sympto- 
matic of those which were to come later. In 1854 and again in 1858 the New York Cen- 
tral, the Erie, the Pennsylvania, and the Baltimore and Ohio agreed on fares from New 
York to common points in the West. They also agreed to eliminate the vigorous compe- 
tition in the sale of tickets, though continuing to stress their own peculiar advantages — 
stopovers and connections, directness of route, and so on. 

x 3 Passenger rates in Massachusetts averaged 2.9a cents a mile in 1850, and 2.91 in 
1854. The average would have been higher had it not been for the inclusion of “season 
passengers” carried at less than 1 cent a mile (William T. Davis (ed.). The New England 
States [Boston: D. H. Hurd & Co., 1897], IV, 1813). McMaster reported that in 1854 
the rate of the Hudson River Railroad (which had steamboat competition) was 1 cent 
a mile, while the rate elsewhere in New York averaged 2.8 cents. In Connecticut the 
average fare was 2.62 cents, in Massachusetts 2.82 cents, and in Pennsylvania 3.31 cents, 
the average fare in Virginia was 4.28 cents a mile, and in Mississippi 4.58 cents (Mc- 
Master, VIII, 96). 

Cited by Hurt's Merchants ' Magazine , XLI (1859), 120; see also Hancock, p. 138; 
and Robertson, p. 1 59. 



Worcester also had different rates for different classes, and some 
roads had three classes. 15 A strictly American departure from 
the one-class system was the immigrant train, designed to carry 
newly arrived immigrants at the lowest possible rates by provid- 
ing them with the absolute minimum in equipment and service. 
Such trains — on the New York Central, the Erie, the Michigan 
Central, the Terre Haute, Alton, and St. Louis, and probably 
other lines — sometimes used common boxcars, with rude seats 
fitted up; there were no windows, and the only fresh air came 
through the sliding doors at the side. Fare in such a train was 
about i cent a mile — half or less that of the regular trains. 

At these rates the railroads found the passenger business in- 
creasing rapidly. In 1859 the passenger trains of Massachusetts 
carried 12,356,657 passengers a distance of about 190,000,000 
passenger miles; and during the year ending September 30, i860, 
the passenger trains of New York (excluding urban routes) 
traveled 9,905,691 miles, carrying 9,305,978 passengers a dis- 
tance of 582,985,207 passenger miles. Pennsylvania railroads in 
that year carried 6,367,141 passengers. 16 The newer western 
lines, despite the low density of population in their territories, 
were doing a good business, too. In 1857 the total of the west- 
ward through and way traffic on the Michigan Central and 
Michigan Southern was 565,996 passengers, and the total of 
the eastward through and way traffic, 470,941. 17 

Steamboats . — During the fifties the railroad was becoming 
more important in passenger transportation than the steam- 
boat, but the steamboat was not yet declining in absolute impor- 
tance — more than a thousand steamboats were in use in i860 — 
nor had technical progress come to a halt. Among the recent im- 

15 Directory of the Cities of Albany and Rensselaer , i860, p. 194; Boston Directory , 
1860, p. 560; Meyer et aL , pp. 554-55. 

16 Hunt* s Merchants ' Magazine , XLII (i860), 504, and XLIV (1861), 370, 374. For 
additional figures on railway passenger traffic see ibid ., XXXIV (1856), 619, and XLIII 
(1860)* 253; Ringwalt, p. 166; and George H. Thurston, Pittsburgh As It Is (reprinted 
as VoL I, No. 1, of Pittsburgh Quarterly Trade Circular , October, 1857 [Pittsburgh: W. S. 
Haven, 1857]), pp. 13, 16. 

17 Pierce, II, 60 n., citing Poor's Manual , 1871-72* 


provements was the screw propeller; 18 but more conspicuous 
was the increase in the size of the vessels, especially those built 
for the eastern rivers. The spirit of rivalry led to the construc- 
tion of vessel after vessel built to surpass everything which had 
preceded it, in engine power, in speed, in size and magnificence 
of accommodations, and in freight capacity. 

When the “New World” was finished for the Hudson River 
traffic in the fifties, it was the largest and fastest vessel in the 
world — three hundred and eight feet from stem to stern. Her 
hull was fifty feet wide, and the entire width over the wheels was 
eighty-five feet; the wheels were forty-five feet in diameter. The 
cabins were (for the time) of immense size, and few hotels could 
then accommodate as many travelers (it contained 347 state- 
rooms and 600 berths.) The cabins contained elegant parlors, 
sumptuously decorated with carved work and gilding, rich car- 
pets, and costly furnishings. The dining-room was also large 
and well furnished. The boat attained a speed of 20 miles an 
hour. 19 In 1852 the average size of the steamboats then on the 
Lakes yras 437 tons; of steamboats on the Ohio basin something 
over 306 tons; and of those on the lower and upper Mississippi, 
Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois rivers nearly 274 tons. At that 
time there were on the Ohio and the Mississippi many steam- 
boats of 300-500 tons each, and a number of from 600 to 800 
tons; several lake steamers were 1,100 tons or over. After 1840, 
larger boats were introduced into service below Cincinnati and 
on the Mississippi between St. Louis and New Orleans. The 
“Eclipse” could make 16 miles an hour upstream, 25 miles an 
hour downstream. But there were many boats of small tonnage 
on the tributaries of the western rivers. 20 

In the early fifties the removal of snags and better steamboat 
inspection and conservative regulation made steamboating 
safer. Even so, during the first six months of 1 859 there were 74 

18 W. H. Walker, “Screw Propulsion; Its Rise and Progress,” Atlantic Monthly , V 
(i860), 314-29; Ringwalt, p. 137. 

19 Ringwalt, p. 137, citing Hall’s census report on the shipbuilding industry. 

36 Ibid * 9 p. 139. 



disasters and 325 lives lost on the Mississippi and its tributaries 
alone. 21 Steamboat racing, so characteristic of the period, was a 
dangerous sport when boilers were as easily exploded as they 
were then. 

Despite the fact that the principal cities of the Northeast 
were connected by rail, steamboats continued to be a popular 
form of passenger travel. The railroad between New York and 
Boston appears to have been particularly uncomfortable, and it 
required a change of cars. The boat trip up the Hudson to Al- 
bany was popular because of the scenery along the way; and 
wherever there were direct connections by boat many travelers 
preferred the more comfortable and luxurious steamboats to the 
jolting railroad cars, often crowded and not infrequently dirty, 
which made their prosaic way through the countryside. Coast 
lines connected New York, Portland, Boston, and other New 
England points; and elsewhere in the Northeast there were nu- 
merous steamboat routes — excursion lines connecting New York 
and Philadelphia with river and coastal points, boats on Lake 
George and Lake Champlain, and others. 22 

The North and the South were connected by several steam- 
boat lines. According to the Boston Directory there were steam- 
boats from Boston to Charleston every ten days, to Baltimore 
every five days, to Norfolk, Petersburg, and Richmond every 
two weeks, and to Savannah twice a month. 23 Cabin passage 
between Boston and Charleston was $18.00, and the $20.00 fare 
from Boston to Savannah included passage, stateroom, and 
meals. There was a-weekly boat from New York to Washington 

31 Hunt's Merchants * Magazine , XLI (1859), 225, citing the Louisville Courier . 

33 The steamboats on the important lines were large, fast, and luxurious. For de- 
scriptions of the Boston-New York boats see Hancock, pp. 128-32; Gratton, I, 23; 
Mackay, pp. 39-42; Pairpont, pp. 122, 127; Robertson, p. 159. For the Hudson River 
boats see Beste, 1 , 95- 96 and 104-5; Bunn, p. 145; Burns, pp. 134-35; Nichols, II, 3-4; 
Weld, p. 363; and Patten, pp. 100-101. 

The standard fare between New York City and Boston, either by bo^t or by train, 
was $5. 00; on the boat one could have a private stateroom for $1.00 more and supper 
for 50 cents. During the frequent price wars the fare might get down to as low as J1.50. 
The steamboat fare between New York and Albany fluctuated frequently, usually being 
between $1.00 and $1.50. 

33 Boston Directory , i£6o y pp. 564-65. 


and Monticello, with $7.50 fare for passage, stateroom, and 
meals. Steamboats made three trips a week between New York 
and Norfolk and New York and Richmond, the fares, including 
stateroom, being $8.00 and $ 10 . 00 , respectively ($4.00 and 
$5.00, steerage). New York was connected to Charleston by 
semi-weekly boats, at a fare of $15.00 (cabin) or $7.00 (steer- 
age). Fare on the semi-weekly boat from New York to Savan- 
nah was also $15.00. From New York to New Orleans was 
$40.00, cabin, or $25.00, steerage. Cabin passage from Philadel- 
phia to Charleston was $15.00, including meals; steerage was 
$6.oo. 24 

There were a number of steamboat companies operating on 
the Great Lakes in competition with the spreading railroad net- 
work. 25 Early in i860 a line announced that two first-class 
steamboats would start running between Chicago and Lake 
Superior points as soon as navigation opened. Screw steamers 
of the Northern Transportation Company plied regularly be- 
tween Ogdensburg, Cape Vincent, and the upper Lakes, with 
daily boats to Cleveland, Sandusky, Toledo, and Detroit, and 
weekly boats connecting Chicago, Milwaukee, and intermediate 
points. Fourteen steamers provided daily service over the Buf- 
falo, Cleveland, and Chicago line. The Western Transporta- 
tion Company and the Western Express Company offered daily 
steamboats from Buffalo to Chicago, Milwaukee, and Racine; to 
Detroit, Sandusky, and Toledo; to Erie and Cleveland; and to 
Green Bay. 26 

The South was even more dependent than the North on 
steamboats. Boats connected Baltimore, Portsmouth, Charles- 
ton, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, Houston, Galveston, and 

2 4 Advertisements in Charleston Mercury , November 6, i860; Boston Evening Tran- 
script, May 1, i860; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, January 3, 1861 ; Lloyd* s 
Steamboat and Railway Guide, i860, p. 126; Charleston Mercury, November 6, i860; New 
York Daily Tribune, July 2, i860, and November 19, i860; the Philadelphia Press, May 
1, i860; and the Charleston Mercury, November 6, i860. 

See the description of the lake steamers in Isabella Bishop, pp. 168-70; Kohl, II, 
1 13-15; Weld, pp. 183-85; and Beste, I, 153. 

36 Advertisements in Chicago Daily Tribune, January 16, i860; March 16, i860; 
May 1, i860; and May 16, i860. 


other coast cities, while small, light-draught boats connected 
the back country with the coast. Many of these local boats were 
slow, dirty, and inconvenient, running on haphazard schedules 
and subject to multitudinous delays. 

The steamboats which are the most remembered are those on 
the Mississippi and its tributaries, the Ohio and the Missouri. 
For these boats the decade preceding the Civil War was the 
golden age; the high tide ended just before the war as the rail- 
roads made great inroads on the boats’ business. The Illinois 
Central in particular proved too strong a competitor for many 
boats on the Mississippi. In i860 the 1,500-mile steamboat trip 
from Dubuque required six days; by railroad the distance was 
shortened to 893 miles and the time to two days. On the lower 
Mississippi there were hundreds of boats — there were about 4,000 
arrivals at New Orleans in 1859-60 27 — many of them large and 
expensive, with luxurious furnishings and sumptuous tables. 28 
In the late fifties cabin passage from New Orleans to St. Louis 
was about $20.00, deck passage much lower. 29 On the upper 
Mississippi boats had to be of yery small draught; but Daven- 
port, in 1857, had 1,587 arrivals and St. Paul, 1,026 arrivals, 30 
while tributaries, such as the Minnesota River, were carrying 
an important traffic. Excursion boats did a big business the 
length of the river. 

Occupying a strategic position was St. Louis, with arrivals 
from the upper and lower Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Mis- 
souri and connected by regular packet lines to St. Joseph, Keo- 
kuk, Quincy, Jefferson City, Omaha, Council Bluffs, Sioux City, 

27 Garnett Laidlaw Eskew, The Pageant of the Packets (New York: Henry Holt & 
Co., 1929), p. 133. 

28 For descriptions of the Mississippi steamboats see Everett Dick, Vanguards of the 
Frontier (New York: D. Apple ton-Century Co., 1941), pp. 167-68; Herbert Eskew and 
Edward Quick, Mississippi Steamboatin (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1926); Wil- 
liam J. Peterson, Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi (Iowa City: State Historical 
Society, 1937); Charles Edward Russell, A-Rafting on the Mississippi (New York: 
Century Co., 1938), p. 25; One Hundred Years' Progress , p. 183. See also Mackie, pp. 
172 ff.; Henry Murray, pp. 120-22; and Robertson, pp. 102-4. 

29 De Bow's Review , XXVI (1858), 601. 

30 Hunt's Merchants' Magazine , XXXIX (1858), 567. Minnesota, Commissioner of 
Statistics, Minnesota; Its Progress and Capabilities (2d annual rept., for the years i860 
and 1861 [St. Paul: William R. Marshall, 1862]), p. 88. 


Cairo, Nashville, and other river towns. The more luxurious of 
the Ohio River boats compared favorably with those of the East. 
Regular lines, usually with three boats a week, connected Cin- 
cinnati and Louisville; Louisville, Evansville, Cairo, and Mem- 
phis; and Cincinnati and Mayville; while less frequently there 
were boats from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Newspapers ad- 
vertised 25 or 30 boats leaving Cincinnati during three-day pe- 
riods, and during the year 1S56-57 there were 2,703 arrivals at 
that city. 31 There was steamboating also on such Ohio tribu- 
taries as the Wabash and the Cumberland. The flow of popula- 
tion to the new lands west of the Mississippi had brought a sud- 
den surge of traffic to the Missouri, 32 and some of its tributaries 
also carried a few steamboats. 

Steamboats quickly appeared on the California waterways. 
In 1854 there were 2 regular steamers from San Francisco to 
Oregon, 4 to California points, and 23 river steamers. 33 In i860 
43 steam vessels were inspected at San Francisco. 34 A river boat 
took nine hours for the San Francisco-Sacramento run and 
charged $5.00 — staterooms $3.00 extra. 3S 

Stagecoaches . — The railroads of i860 served only the large 
cities and such small towns as happened to lie on the trunk 
routes; there were no “feeder” lines. Only coast and lake cities 
and communities on navigable rivers could make use of steam- 
boats. Stagecoaches, which could go anywhere there were roads, 
could pay expenses even where traffic was light, and could 
change their flexible schedules as occasion arose, undoubtedly 
were of an importance much greater than one would at first 

The stagecoach in common use was the familiar Concord 
coach, which had taken its final form about 1 830. The body was 
oval, flattened at the top to permit the carrying of baggage. 
Within were three cross-seats, each designed to hold three pas- 
sengers; those on the front seat faced the rear, the others faced 

31 Hunt's Merchants' Magaztne y XXXVII (1857), 759* For descriptions of the Ohio 
River boats see Bunn, p. 145; Beste, 1 , 1248; Nichols, II, 4-6; Olmsted, Texas Journey , 
p. 5; and Foster, pp. 189-92. 

32 See Gladstone, pp. 1 53-64; and Quick, pp. 257-58. 34 Ringwalt, p. 139. 

33 Soul6, Gihon, and Nisbet, p. 494. 35 Sutherland, p. 77. 



the front. The driver sat on an elevated seat in front of the cov- 
ered body, while at the rear was a triangular, leather-covered 
“boot,” where such baggage was carried as did not ride on top. 
The body of the coach was painted in some bright color, and the 
panels decorated with landscapes or portraits. 36 

Stagecoaching was least important in the Northeast, but even 
there anyone straying off the beaten path had to use the stage. 
The northern part of New England in particular provided busi- 
ness for coaches long after the Civil War. In the South there 
were still many stage routes; even where there were railroads, 
as in central Kentucky, the stagecoaches served as feeders and 
connecting links. In other states, such as Texas, where there 
were no railroads, the stagecoach provided the only method of 
reaching the interior. Travelers such as Parsons and Olmsted 
have described many coach journeys in the South, chiefly dis- 
tinguished by the slow rate of progress, the endless fording of 
streams, the detours around old trees and through bogs. The 
southern stage lines were local affairs, which have left no his- 
tory. Their offices were usually in tavern or hotel barrooms, and 
their frequent loss of baggage was notorious. But they were the 
only link with the outside world, and the stage driver was a man 
much admired by men and boys. 

In the Old Northwest the stage remained, until the middle 
fifties, the only common carrier; but, as the railroads came in, 
the stage routes were pushed farther and farther west. Even in 
i860 numerous western regions were still dependent upon stages; 
and the tavern, which was also the stage station, was the social 
hub of the village. Because of the roads and the weather, sched- 
ules could never be maintained. Coach travel was arduous at 
best, despite the relay stations every twelve or fifteen miles and 
the frequent taverns; at times such travel was an experience to 
be undergone only when grave emergency demanded it. 37 

36 For descriptions of stagecoaches see Louis Pelzer, “Pioneer Stage-Coach Travel,” 
Mississippi Valley Historical Review , XXIII (1936), 4-6; Quaife, pp. 154-56; and Ring- 
wait, p. 64; see also Burton, pp. 14-15; and C. B. Johnson, p. 49. 

37 For the inconveniences and dangers of coach travel see Quaife, pp. 162,-65, and 
chap, xi; afid Charles Casey, Two Years on the Farm of Uncle Sam (London: R. Bentley, 
1% $2), passim. 


West of the Mississippi there were Concord coaches, but ex- 
cept on mail routes the vehicles were more likely to be “jerkeys” 
or “mud wagons.” 3 * 

In i860, by traveling in stages during a large portion of each day and night, 
but halting forty-five times for intervals of from four to five or six hours, the 
journey was made from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Great Salt Lake, in nineteen 
days, the distance being 1,126 miles, and the average rate of speed nearly 
sixty miles a day. 39 

California, which in i860 had only 70 miles of railroad and Ore- 
gon, which had only 4, were ideal territory for the stages. By 
i860 stages were running (except for a twenty-one-mile stretch) 
from Sacramento to Portland, Oregon; practically all towns in 
California were knitted together by a network of passable roads, 
radiating from Sacramento, and stage lines. The California 
Stage Company had, in 1858,28 daily stage lines in operation, re- 
quiring 1,000 horses, 134 Concord coaches, and 184 employees; 
the coaches traveled 1,970 miles of route, rolling up more than 
1,000,000 stage-miles a year. Other companies had a total near- 
ly as great. 40 


Street railways . — Local transportation has had very little to 
do with the broad pattern of economic development, but it im- 
pinges more often upon the daily life of city dwellers than does 
long-distance transportation. The steam railroad may be more 
important, as a distributor of goods, but the streetcar has more 
fares. Local transportation was characteristically different in 
the United States from what it was abroad. Where agencies 
could be devised to accommodate large numbers of passengers, 
as in street railways, omnibuses, and ferryboats, the service was 
rapid, frequent, and inexpensive. Where the element of person- 
al service bulked large, as in hackney coaches, the charges were 
high, the facilities inconvenient, and the services rendered with 
scant courtesy or consideration. 

3* Cf. Ringwalt, p. 64. 35 Ibid., quoting John E. Reeside. 

*> William and George Hugh Banning, Six Horses (New York: Century Co., 1930), 
chap, iii; Oscar Osbum Winther, Express and Stagecoach Days in California (Stanford, 
Calif.: Leland Stanford University Press, 1936), pp. 151-59- 


Typical of American ingenuity in the “mass production” of 
transportation services were the street railways, which had their 
beginnings in the fifties. By the end of the decade the Census 
could report more than 400 miles of street railway in Boston, 
New York City (including Brooklyn and Hoboken), Philadel- 
phia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore, 
and New Orleans had lines which were not included. There were 
also short stretches in a few other cities, while Syracuse, Buffalo, 
and Milwaukee had lines which commenced operations in i860, 
and still other cities were planning railways which were in opera- 
tion in the early sixties. 

Boston had five street-railway systems with 67I miles of 
routes. New York during the fifties built lines on all the avenues 
parallel to Broadway (Broadway itself and Fifth Avenue were 
excepted) and on many of the side streets. The five principal 
lines carried nearly 35,000,000 passengers in the year ending 
September 30, 1858, at fares of 5 cents for adults and 3 cents for 
children, maintaining average speeds of 5 or 6 miles an hour. 41 
Philadelphia had no line until 1857; but the growth was rapid, 
and in 1858 the five lines in operation carried an estimated 46,- 
000 passengers daily. 42 Chicago, which started building in 1858, 
had, by i860, lines operating from Twenty-second Street north 
to North Avenue and as far west as Robey Street. 43 The lines in 
other cities were short and unimportant. 

The cars were, of course, horsecars, with capacities of from 
twenty to thirty persons. Passengers could travel the full length 
of the line (in New York 7 or 8 miles) for a nickel — 7 cents in 
Philadelphia — and the service seems to have been comparative- 
ly frequent. Then as now, however, there were many com- 
plaints of overcrowding. 

-* 1 George Francis Train, Observations on Street Railways (2d ed.; London: Sampson 
Low, Son, & Co., i860), pp. 11-13. 

^Frederick W. Speirs, The Street Railway System of Philadelphia: Its History and 
Present Condition (“Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Sci- 
ence,” Ser. XV, Nos. Ill, IV, and V [Baltimore, 1 897]), pp. 1 1-20. 

** Esther Elizabeth Espenshade, “The Economic Development and History of Chi- 
cago, 1860-1865” (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, Department of His- 
tory, 1931), p. 9. 


Omnibuses . — Service by omnibuses (horse-drawn convey- 
ances, holding a dozen or so passengers, traveling along regular- 
ly established routes, and charging the same small fare for rides 
of any distance on the line) had been established in the larger 
cities twenty-five or thirty years before the Civil War. The in- 
troduction of street railways in some cities largely, but not en- 
tirely, displaced the omnibus in those cities; but, since only a 
few cities had such railways, there was still a large field for the 
omnibus. The omnibus was distinctly a one-man vehicle in its 
operation. The passenger would signal the driver when he 
wished to enter, and, having entered, he would pay his fare to 
the driver through a hole in the roof. When he wished to alight, 
the passenger pulled a cord, the vehicle stopped, a leather strap 
attached to the driver’s leg released a catch on the door, and the 
passenger could open the door and step out. 

In Boston there were omnibuses on six city routes and two 
suburban; in New York they were so far from extinction that 
Mackay described them as “swarming” on the streets, 44 and 
they were overcrowded at that. But in Philadelphia the street 
railway quickly forced the omnibus out of existence. In 1857 
there were 32 2 omnibuses; in 1858 (the first full year of the 
street-railway lines) there were 222; in 1859 there were only 56; 
and by 1864 only 1 omnibus was left. 45 In Chicago there were 
omnibuses on three routes, with omnibuses every fifteen min- 
utes on Randolph Street and every ten minutes on Clark 
Street. 46 There were omnibus lines also in Pittsburgh, Washing- 
ton, Louisville, San Francisco, and probably numerous other 
cities. In some northern cities, including Boston and New York, 
the omnibuses were frequently put on runners after heavy 

Hackney coaches . — While travelers were agreed in their ap- 
proval of the street railways and omnibuses, they were just as 

44 p. i 9 . 

45 Speirs, p. 11. 

4 6 Andreas, II, 118. In 1854, 22 miles of streets had been served by 18 buses on 8 
routes, making a total of 408 trips daily; there were special buses from hotels to railroad 
stations and others running to the suburbs (Pierce, II, 323-24). 



unanimous in their disapproval of the hansoms and hackneys. 
This disapproval was not limited to a few cities or a few drivers 
but included the whole country within its scope. It was not the 
cabs themselves that were disappointing — Bunn thought them 
superior to their English equivalents, Hancock found them neat 
and clean, and Trollope “clean, roomy, and nice” 47 — but the 
conduct of the drivers and the high fares charged. 

Baxter’s comment is typical: “The cabs in the United States 
are as handsome and showy as gentlemen’s carriages, generally 
mounted with silver, and always exceedingly expensive. The 
price demanded, and even allowed by law, is in most cases so 
exorbitant that I seldom employed them.” Bunn made an ex- 
ception of Boston, where the fares were more reasonable. No 
one made an exception of New York. According to Hancock the 
hackney carriages were few and little used because of the high 
fares and because of the independence of the drivers. Bunn 
wrote that, in spite of the legal maximum being 50 cents, in ac- 
tual practice the drivers never charged less than $1.00. Mackay 
was charged $ 1.00 for a drive of less than two miles; he wrote 
that hackney coaches were such an expensive luxury that few 
but newcomers to the city ever thought of using one, and “the 
hackney coaches with two horses are conducted upon such a 
system that one job per diem may be considered tolerably good 
pay.” Trollope found $ I .00 an hour the regular charge for pub- 
lic carriages; going out to dinner and back cost $ 2.00 in carriage 
fares. On Sala’s first day in New York he had to pay $5.00 for a 
five-mile drive, and his hack driver further imposed on him by 
taking in other passengers as they went along. 48 

It was not only in the metropolitan cities of the Northeast 
that these conditions existed. In Chicago, despite a legal maxi- 
mum hack fare of 50 cents for up to a mile, extortion continued. 
In Washington the public conveyances were poor and the fares 

47 Bunn, p. 143; Hancock, p. 39; Trollope, p. 194. 

48 Baxter, p. 25; Bunn, p. 143; Hancock, p, 39; Mackay, p. 19; Trollope, p. 194; Sala, 
I, 67-69. Similar comments by other visitors from abroad were those of Dicey (p. 19), 
Henry Murray (p. 25), and H. Reid (pp. 229-30). 

In i860 the legal carriage fare in Boston was 30 and 37^ cents for anywhere within 
the city; in New York 50 cents for a mile or less, 75 cents for two miles. 


extortionate. Weld found that the driver of the coach taking a 
dozen passengers from the boat to the hotel in Baltimore charged 
them $1 .00 each. Mackay had to pay $1.00 hack fare for travel- 
ing less than a mile in New Orleans, and Nichols tells of a driver 
there charging $25.00 for taking a load of passengers a few rods; 
he also speaks of high fares in Memphis. 49 

Ferryboats . — There were about 20 ferry lines in New York 
City, with fares of 1 cent to Brooklyn, 3 cents to New Jersey, 
and 6 \ cents to Staten Island. The Brooklyn ferry left every 
two or three minutes, most of the others every five or ten min- 
utes. Other cities cut by rivers also had ferries, though it is diffi- 
cult to find references to them. 


The horse and buggy . — It is easy to attach too much impor- 
tance to the omnibuses and street railways. Few cities were so 
large as to make it inconvenient for people to walk to their des- 
tinations. The well-to-do had their carriages, while others pa- 
tronized the livery stable. 50 In the back country the travel be- 
tween towns, between farms, and between town and farm was 
almost entirely dependent upon the saddle horse, the buggy, or 
the wagon (in rare instances the rowboat) of the traveler him- 
self. It is impossible to make any sort of estimate as to the num- 
bers of such vehicles in use in the fifties and sixties. 

Up to about 1840 it had seemed impossible that anything 
could ever displace the two-wheeled chaise from popularity. 
Then a purely American vehicle, the four-wheeled buggy, ap- 
peared in a multitude of forms and opened the way for novelty. 51 
The elliptical spring had been invented in 1825 and was used in 

49 Pierce, II, 323; Delos F. Wilcox, Great Cities in America (New York: Macmillan 
Co., 1910), p. 2 5; Henry Murray, pp. 195-96; Weld, p. 333; Mackay, p. 179; Nichols, I, 

In the fifties it was an exceedingly small or remote village that was without a livery 
stable; big dties had them by the hundreds. They have, however, largely escaped the 
notice of local historians, visiting Europeans, and others; and I can add little or nothing 
in the way of quantitative information. In Chicago a coach or carriage, drawn by two 
horses, cost, with a driver, $5.00 a day; a cab with a single horse $3. 00 (Pierce, II, 323). 

s 1 Chauncey Thomas, “American Carriage and Wagon Works,’' One Hundred Years 
of American Commerce , II, 518. 



carriage-building after 1830, and there were other improvements 
in design and construction and new methods of building which 
reduced cost. The rubber tire had not yet come into use. Dur- 
ing the forties and fifties the manufacture and sale of carriages 
increased, owing to improved roads and to the growing wealth 
than to any improvements in the vehicles themselves. 52 

In the city the characteristic vehicle was the “buggy,” much 
lighter in weight than its European counterpart; there were 
no longer any two-wheeled vehicles to be seen. 53 Mrs. Bishop 
thought the private carriages roomy and comfortable but hard- 
ly elegant. They were closed carriages, for the most part, with 
glass sides and front. She was surprised at the number of two- 
horse carriages, most of them covered, in Cincinnati. 54 Never- 
theless, comparatively few persons owned their own carriages in 
the fifties. It is said that there were so few private carriages in 
New York City that one person knew them all by sight. 5S 

The wealthy planter dressed his coachmen in livery and was 
proud of his handsome carriage and fine saddles. Frederick 
Douglass wrote that his Maryland master had three coaches and 
gigs, phaetons, barouches, sulkies, and sleighs, besides saddles 
and harness. He had, by Douglass’ account, thirty-five pleas- 
ure horses and needed two stablemen. 56 The North Carolina 
planter was likely to have a sulky, buggies, and a light wagon, 
imported from New England. 57 Van Buren noticed the car- 
riages drawing up at a church in Mississippi : they were silver- 
plated and burnished, and had Negro drivers in livery. 58 In 
marked contrast were the carts to be seen making up the greater 
part of the traffic on the country roads of Georgia. To Olmsted 
these little one-horse carts, the driver astride the horse, looked 
as if they had been made with axes and jacknives. Little metal 

53 Bolles, p. 557. 

53 Bums, pp. 143-44. 

*4 Isabella Bishop, pp. 118-19, 357 - 

ss Arthur Train, Puritan's Progress (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1931), p. 
239. None of the coachmen wore livery, the first in New York City being introduced by 
Pierre Lorillard, Sr., in 1866. 

56 P. no. 57 Avirett, p. 51. 

5 8 P. 102. 


was used in their construction, and the harness was improvised 
from rope and bits of leather . 59 

In rural regions of the West travel, even for short distances, 
was usually by horseback, the women always riding sidesaddle; 
until the last part of the fifties there were few buggies in Illinois. 
Farmers and their families attended political rallies or went to 
town for court week in big stout wagons . 60 The most common 
conveyance was a two-horse wagon, with chairs from the house 
placed in the wagon bed . 61 

In the northern winters it was often necessary, as well as good 
fun, to substitute a sleigh for the buggy or runners for wheels. 
In city and in country, for business and for pleasure, sleighs and 
sledges were used. 


Streets and sidewalks . — If the caustic comments of our usual 
informants — the European travelers who came to the United 
States in the fifties and early sixties — are a safe guide, American 
streets were poorly paved, obstructed, filthy and unsanitary, 
and overrun with animal scavengers. Baxter’s comment is typi- 
cal of more than a score which might be cited: 

With few exceptions, American streets are wretchedly ill-paved and in- 
tolerably filthy, so badly lighted that it is dangerous to go out after dark, and 
so full of holes, that European carriages would not be safe for a week. I have 
seen ladies over the ankle-step in mud-ruts two feet deep, and chasms large 
enough to overturn an omnibus. Even in cities, the inhabitants of which pay 
heavy taxes for paving and cleansing, these departments are very ill-con- 
ducted, and the state of many back and cross streets baffles description 

Wholesale dealers, too, are permitted to place their bales and boxes of mer- 
chandize on the pavements before their stores, so that one scrambles rather 
than walks in the business parts of the cities . 62 

Even in New England the streets showed need for improve- 
ment: Mrs. Cowell found the streets the most strikingly un- 
favorable thing about Boston, Providence, and Worcester, 

59 Seaboard Slave States , p. 413. 

60 Beveridge, II, 198. West of the Mississippi, too, “many had their own horses and 
saddles or earn ages* * (Dick, Sod House Frontier , p. 70.) 

61 C. B. Johnson, pp. 138-39. 

6a Pp. 24-25. 



though Chambers was pleased by Boston’s granite sidewalks. 63 
New York’s streets, like those of most American streets, were 
laid out at right angles. The increasingly heavy traffic was mak- 
ing the choice of paving materials a serious problem. There were 
about 175 miles of paved streets, it was reported in 1 859, a large 
proportion of which would cost more to repair than to replace. 
The Belgian pavement could not stand up under the heavy 
traffic, and no new cobblestones were being laid. 64 The stone in 
the paved streets crumbled and broke apart, leaving holes which 
collected filth and refuse. Boxes and barrels of ashes and gar- 
bage stood in the streets, and refuse of all sorts was cheerfully 
disposed of there. And even in New York there were goats, 
geese and chickens, sheep, and pigs wandering in some of the 
streets. 65 But the leading complaint — the truth of which was 
never questioned — was that the streets were filthy: some were 
almost impassable because of mud and pools of water, and in 
some streets the accumulations were so great that the fire en- 
gines could hardly get through. In Philadelphia things were bet- 
ter — by 1857 there were 3 50 miles of cobblestone paving and 500 
miles of sidewalks, 66 and visitors found the city cleaner than the 
others. In Chicago only a few dozen miles were paved — with 
planks, macadam, and cobblestones — of the 400 miles of city 
streets; the rest, in rainy weather, were seas of mud and in any 
weather full of refuse. 

Some of the smaller cities of the North had a little paving, 
many had none at all. 67 In none of them were the streets kept 
clean; and, in almost all, hogs, dogs, and rats, and sometimes 
other animals found the streets a paradise. Most of the cities of 
any size had their more important streets gaslighted, but the 
lighting failed to measure up to the needs. 

Washington’s streets were, except for Pennsylvania Avenue, 

Disher, p. u; Chambers, p. an. 

6 * New York City, Croton Aqueduct Department, Annual Report , January 1859 
(New York: Charles W. Baker, 1859), pp. 19-20. 

6s Sala, I, 412-13; Chambers, pp. 192-93. 

66 Freedley, Philadelphia (1858 ed.), p. 63. 

Cincinnati was laysng “bowlder” pavement in the fifties (Cist, p. 338). 


all unpaved; in the winter they were muddy wallows for hogs, in 
the summer dusty. There was not even any grading, and the 
ruts threatened the very existence of carriages. Throughout the 
South there seems to have been but little paving, though the 
most important streets in a few big cities might be graveled. 
They were poorly drained, poorly graded, obstructed, and filthy. 
In many towns buzzards lived on the garbage thrown into the 
streets. There were a few planked streets in Sacramento, but 
elsewhere in the Far West — Denver, Salt Lake City, San Fran- 
cisco, Los Angeles — the streets were unpaved and uncared for. 

Roads and highways . — Plank roads, in some states designed as 
feeders for the railroads, aroused a good deal of enthusiasm in 
the late forties and early fifties. New York was one of the lead- 
ers (in 1852 the state had 2,106 miles of plank roads), 68 and 
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana all saw a good 
deal of plank-road construction. Plank roads were easily built. 
Two rows of oak stringers, about two inches square in cross-sec- 
tion, were sunk into the right of way, their tops flush with the 
ground, and across them were laid planks, two and a half or 
three inches by eight feet long. The planks were not fastened to 
the stringers, whose only function was to keep the planks from 
turning in the mud when heavy loads passed across them. Such 
roads appeared cheap, and the expectation was that they would 
last a long time. It quickly became evident, however, that the 
roadbeds could not be kept free of air and water, and decay set 
in. Before many years the roads were a source of discomfort and 
danger, and they were allowed to go to pieces without replace- 

Before the enthusiasm for them waned, plank roads radiated 
from numerous cities from New York State westward — Dayton, 
Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee. Chicago’s experience was typi- 
cal. Roads could be built for $ 2,000 dollars a mile; and, though 
the maximum tolls were prescribed by law, they appeared sure 
money-makers. Beginning in 1848 roads were built radiating in 
all directions; after about five years, when 50 miles or more had 
been built, the profits proved illusory, and all projects were 

66 Hunt* s Merchants ’ Magazine > XXVII (185a), 508. 



abandoned. 69 Similar roads were built in many parts of the 
country — in Maine, Kentucky, Missouri, and California. Their 
history was the same wherever they were built. 

The curiously episodic manner of the historians of transpor- 
tation (the fifties were part of the “railway period,” so all other 
forms of transportation are ignored) makes them useless as 
sources; I suspect, however, that little real progress in road 
maintenance had been made since the early years of the century. 
There was the Cumberland Road, much of it in fairly good re- 
pair. In some parts of the country, where there was a large vol- 
ume of traffic, turnpike companies or local authorities saw to the 
building and maintenance of macadam roads. Such “improved” 
roads were few; and everywhere in the South and West — and for 
that matter in most places in the Northeast — the roads were as 
bad as they could be and still be roads. Much of the work was 
done by farmers “working out” their taxes; there seems to have 
been little supervision and little actual cash expenditure. Such 
roads were tolerable in late spring and in early autumn and in 
the North when covered with snow for sleds. In summer they 
were inches deep in dust and in rainy seasons little more than 
sloughs of mud — long stretches became quagmires, and occa- 
sional mudholes were so deep that wheels would sink and even 
horses flounder. Sometimes it required two horses to pull a sin- 
gle buggy, and frequently travelers preferred the open fields to 
the road. 

Bridges. — John A. Roebling in 1844 built a wire suspension 
aqueduct over the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh and followed 
it with other bridges and aqueducts. In 1852 he began the 
bridge over the Niagara River, of which the lower floor was 
opened in 1854, the upper open for trains in 1855. In 1856 
Roebling began the Covington and Cincinnati suspension bridge 
over the Ohio, finished in 1 867 at a cost of $1,500,000. In 1858 — 
60 a wire suspension bridge was built over the Allegheny at 
Pittsburgh. 70 I have no very clear notion as to how many 
bridges there were in the cities. Broad rivers still had to be 

6 ’ See Quaife, pp. 130-37. 

70 J. L. Bishop, II, 578-79- 


spanned by ferries, and even where the rivers were more easily 
bridged I suspect civic indifference kept the number of bridges 
at a minimum. 71 

Outside the cities there were almost no bridges over the large 
rivers, and travelers had to ford the streams where there were no 
ferries. In the South and West bridges were even more infre- 
quently encountered. A drawbridge at Topeka, built in 1858 
for ? 1 5,000, was the only bridge over the Kansas River. 72 Gree- 
ley wrote that there were few ferries in Kansas and that bridges 
were almost unknown. In the vicinity of Denver there was a 
footbridge over the Platte and another over Clear Creek. A toll 
bridge at Laramie was charging $2.50 toll. All the rivers around 
San Francisco were crossed by toll bridges or ferries, at $1.00 a 
wagon. 73 


Mail transportation . — Methods of handling mail were being 
continually changed during the middle years of the nineteenth 
century. The sulky and the stagecoach were being pushed far- 
ther and farther west as the Frontier receded, the steamboat was 
failing to hold its own, and the railroad was coming to dominate 
the carriage of mail. While the new transportation agencies 
were reducing the time required for delivery, public opinion was 
forcing lower and more nearly uniform postage rates. 

In i860 horse and sulky routes still accounted for 60 per cent 
of .all post-route mileage, giving to the sparsely settled regions 
contacts with trade, manufacturing, and government. Stage- 
coach mail routes were only about a third as extensive and were 
steadily declining in importance. There were about 1 5,000 miles 
of steamboat-route mileage (compared with 140,000 miles for 
horse and sulky, 55,000 for stagecoaches), and it was being cur- 

7 1 The flood of March, 1 849, destroyed Chicago’s bridges; and the next year ferries 
cost the city nearly $3,400. Throughout the fifties and sixties there was agitation for 
more bridges, but the late sixties found such accommodations sadly inadequate (Pierce, 

II, 3 «)- 

7 * Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper , VII (December 25, 1858), 47. 

w Overland Journey , pp. 34, 161, 181, and 298. 


tailed still further. Railway mail service, on the other hand, had 
been steadily expanding and by i860 accounted for 37 per cent 
of all route mileage and a much larger percentage of all mail 
carried.? 4 

Use of the postal system . — An approach toward uniformity of 
rates was made by the act of March 3, 1851, which set a 3-cent 
rate for prepaid letters and a 5-cent rate for those not prepaid. 
These rates applied only to letters sent distances less than 3,000 
miles; the rates to greater distances within the nation were fixed 
at 6 and 12 cents, for which a 10-cent rate was substituted in 
1855, when prepayment of all domestic postage was also re- 
quired. Meanwhile, in 1852, stamped envelopes had come into 
use for the mutual convenience of the postal authorities and of 
letter-writers. Newspapers and magazines paid 3 cents an 
ounce, with lower rates within the state of publication, and 
weekly papers were carried free within the state. 75 

The lack of statistical information as to the number of pieces 
mailed makes it necessary to rely upon indirect methods of com- 
parison. Between i860 and 1930 the per capita postal receipts 
in this country increased from 26 cents to $5-57. 7S The compari- 
son is not an exact one — since i860 postage rates have been low- 
ered still further and made still more nearly uniform and it is 
probable that the proportion of first-class mail to other classes 
has changed materially — but an increase of more than twenty 
times is too great to leave any doubt as to its significance. 

The mail service . — The much-needed overhauling of the de- 
livery system had not been made by 1 860; and it seemed obvious 
to many, as it did to Trollope, 77 that there was something wrong 
in a system under which private enterprisers could make money 
in delivering letters, businessmen rented post-office boxes in- 

74 Ross Allan McReynolds, “History of the United States Post Office, 1607-1931” 
(unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Chicago, Department of Economics, 

ms), pp- 71 ff. 

7 s McReynolds, pp. 178-201. 

7 6 McReynolds, p. 508. Postal correspondence in the United States was estimated 
to be between 160,000,000 and 170,000,000 letters in 1861 (Hunt’s Merchants* Magazine , 
XLVI [1862], 329). This would have been 5 or 6 letters per capita. 

77 In his chapter (chap, xxxiii) on the United States postal system. 


stead of having their mail delivered, and persons living outside 
the cities had no delivery at all. In New York and other big 
cities the postal system charged for its deliveries (a cents a letter 
in New York, 1 cent in Boston) and had to compete against pri- 
vate delivery services. In rural districts and towns there were 
no deliveries, but the necessity of having to call at the post office 
— the village store — did not seem a hardship to many, nor did 
daily deliveries seem necessary. 78 

Attempts were made, during the period from 1854 to i860, to 
inaugurate a satisfactory system for registering mail, but the 
attempts were unsuccessful; the registration served to give the 
sender a receipt, but no guaranty of delivery was assumed. 
Money orders were not introduced until 1 864, special delivery 
until 1885, a parcel post until 1912 (the “third-class” mail of 
1863 did include some sorts of packages), or postal savings until 

Summary. —It is evident that local conditions determined the 
amount of service rendered by the postal system. In the big 
cities of the East and in other towns on trunk-line railroads 
there were daily mails. Elsewhere the mails were dependent 
upon the other means of transportation and might not arrive 
oftener than once a week, or even once a month. Anna Howard 
Shaw later remembered that on the Michigan frontier, in 1859 
and 1 860, mail was delivered once a month by a carrier who al- 
ternately rode horseback and paddled a canoe. 79 During the 
winter many communities in the Northwest were dependent 
upon deliveries by sleighs and sleds. 

The overland mail . — The first United States mail service to 
Colorado, without transfer to private companies, was in August, 
i860. These mails were weekly, the stage route including Jules- 
burg, Denver, Central City, Boulder, Colorado City, and Breck- 
enridge. 80 During 1857 and 1858 mail service to the Far West 

78 The delivery systems are described in McReynoIds, pp. 132-36. Free urban de- 
livery was begun in 1863, rural free delivery not until 1902. 

79 Pp* 33-34* 

80 Leroy R. Hafen, “Early Mail Service to Colorado, 1858-1860,” Colorado Magazine, 
II (1925), 23~32. 



had been expanded to include twice-monthly service by way of 
New Orleans and Panama; twice monthly by way of New Or- 
leans and Tehuantepec; twice monthly by way of San Antonio, 
El Paso, and Yuma; twice weekly by way of St. Louis and 
Memphis, El Paso and Stockton; once a month from Kansas 
City to Stockton; and once a week from St. Joseph through Salt 
Lake City to Placerville. There was considerable retrenchment 
in 1859, the Kansas City-Stockton and the Tehuantepec routes 
being discontinued and service reduced on the others. Not until 
1861 did the Far West receive a daily mail. 81 Once arrived in 
California, the mail was distributed by stage or the local ex- 

None of these mail services has taken quite such a place in 
the popular imagination as the pony express. This was a semi- 
weekly service, lasting from April 3, i860, to October, 1861, at 
first from St. Joseph to Sacramento, cutting the delivery time 
between the coasts to about ten days. It was really a continua- 
tion of the telegraph system (the rate was $5.00 for a half-ounce 
letter, later reduced to JS2.00, and finally to $1.00), and, when 
the telegraph to the Pacific was completed, the pony express was 
no longer needed. 81 


Expansion and consolidation . — In considering the consump- 
tion habits of the ante bellum period we need say little about the 
telegraph, for only in the gravest of emergencies was it used for 
personal matters. The services were available, but their general 
use had to wait upon lower rates, larger incomes, and a change 
in the public attitude. 

By i860 the expanding telegraph network included all the 

81 For the overland mail see Banning, Parts II and III; McReynolds, pp. 91—101; 
Glenn D. Bradley, The Story of the Pony Express (2d ed.; Chicago: A. C. McClurg & 
Co., 1914 )> passim; Leroy R. Hafen, The Overland Mail , iSpp~i 86 p (Cleveland: Arthur 
H. Clark Co., 1926), passim. 

82 There is no lack of material, both popular and scholarly, on the pony express — see 
e.g., Bradley; Chapman; Hafen, Overland Mail , chap, viii; Frank A. Root and William 
Elsey Connelley, The Overland Stage to California (Topeka, 1901); William Lightfoot 
Visscher, The Pony Express (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co., 1908); as well as such 
books as Dick’s Vanguards of the Frontier . 


principal cities of the country except those of the Far West (the 
line to the Pacific was completed in 1861), rates had been re- 
duced, and the telegraph had become — for matters of urgent 
business — an accepted means of communication. Telegraph 
poles were contributing to the ugliness of cities. Beginning in 
the middle fifties, the tendency had been toward consolidation 
of the lines into a very few companies, each with an impressive 
network — the American Telegraph Company, the Magnetic 
Telegraph Company, the rapidly growing Western Union, the 
Southwestern Telegraph Company, and others. In 1858 there 
were more than 35,000 miles of telegraph lines in the United 
States, and by i860 at least 50,000 miles, with more than 1,400 
stations, 10,000 operators, and over 5,000,000 messages an- 
nually. In the early fifties a ten-word message from New York 
to Boston cost 20 cents. New York to Philadelphia 25 cents, to 
Chicago $1.00, to New Orleans $2.40, and to Washington 50 
cents. 83 


The express companies . — In the absence of any parcel post 
the transportation and delivery of packages was a purely pri- 
vate enterprise. By the time of the Civil War there were large 
express companies with far-flung organizations, but — in con- 
trast with the telegraph business — the small enterprise con- 
tinued to be an important factor. Many of these were hardly 
more than messenger services or “coat-pocket express com- 
panies 7 '; the Boston Almanac , in 1 860, listed about 300 expresses 
in that city alone. 84 Compared with the 3 or 4 big railway ex- 
press companies, these were obviously of trivial importance. 

83 Charles Frederick Briggs and August Maverick, The Story of the Telegraph (New 
York: Rudd & Carleton, 1858), p. 27; George B. Prescott, History, Theory , and Practice 
of the Electric Telegraph (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, i860), p. 214; Alexander Jones, 
Historical Sketch of the Electric Telegraph: Including Its Rise and Progress in the United 
States (New York: George B. Putnam, 1852), pp. 189-94. See also James D. Reid, The 
Telegraph in America (New York: Derby Bros., 1879); and Alvin F. Harlow, Old Wires 
and New Waves (New York: D. Apple ton-Century Co., 1936). 

84 Pp. 234-37. For the histories of the small companies and of the early consoli- 
dations see A. L. Srimson, History of the Express Companies (New York: The 
author, 1859). 



These larger express companies had rather close relationships 
with the railroad systems; the American Express used the New 
York Central lines, Adams those of the Pennsylvania and the 
Baltimore and Ohio, and the United States Express those of the 
Erie. 85 The American Express Company was the result of the 
merger in 1850 of Wasson and Company, Wells and Company, 
and Livingston, Fargo, and Company. Still using the old names 
“Livingston, Fargo, and Company” and “Wells, Butterfield, 
and Company,” it did business from New York westward 
through the states of the Old Northwest and even as far as 
Kansas and Minnesota; it had some routes into lower Canada. 
Another express company with a large business in the western 
states was the United States Express Company, organized in 
1854 and for a time operated directly by the Erie; by 1858 the 
affiliation had proved to be a failure, and the express company 
was independent. 

The Adams and Company’s Express was the result of a con- 
solidation in 1854 of Adams’ old organization with Thompson, 
Livingston, and Company, Kinsley and Company, Hoey and 
Company’s Charleston Expresses, and Hamden’s Steamship 
Express. By the outbreak of the war Adams had virtually the 
entire express business of the South and Southwest and was ex- 
tending its business in the Atlantic states as far north as south- 
ern New England, thus including “the most densely populated 
and industrially the best developed section of the Union.” 86 
These three companies were much the largest, though a fourth 
— the National Express Company (incorporated in 1855) — 
seems to have done most of the express business between New 
York and the chief towns of lower Canada. I have found little to 
indicate what charges any of these companies made or what 

8 s For the early history of the major companies see Alvin F. Harlow, Old Waybills 
(New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1934), esp. pp. 65-67; and Henry Wells, 
Sketch of the Rise , Progress , and Present Condition of the Express System (Albany: Van 
Benthuysen’s Steam Printing House, 1864); see also Levi C. Weir, “The Express,” One 
Hundred Years of American Commerce , I, 137-40. 

86 Harlow, Old Waybills , p. 67. 


service they gave, though there seems to have been some room 
for complaint. 87 

By i860 Wells, Fargo had practically a monopoly of the ex- 
press business to the Far West. Wells, Fargo, and Company’s 
California Express was organized in 1852 to compete against 
Adams’ monopoly; and, after the failure in 1855 of the Adams 
California affiliate. Wells, Fargo had almost the whole business 
and was the only concern to make important treasure ship- 
ments. It received in California twice as many packages from 
outside the state as the Pacific Express and Freeman and Com- 
pany combined and had permanent agencies in nearly every city 
and town in California — 147 by i860. As new mining regions 
were opened, it extended its services into Oregon, Nevada, and 
Colorado. 88 

87 Trollope wrote (p. 308): “A parcel sent by express over a distance of forty miles 
will not be delivered within twenty-four hours. I once made my plaint on this subject 
at the bar or office of an hotel, and was told that no remonstrance was of avail. ‘It is a 
monopoly/ the man told me, ‘and if we say anything, we are told that if we do not like 
it we need not use it.’ ” 

88 Wells, pp. 15-16; Winther, pp. 141-42. 




Public expenditures . — Although the chapter heading suggests 
several fruitful lines of thought, it is my purpose only to fill in a 
few gaps remaining in the other chapters; to go further would 
lead me outside the already broad limits I have set myself. In 
the main each family’s level of living in i860 was the sum of the 
goods and services it purchased for itself. There were a few ex- 
ceptions to this, a few additions to these purchases, some of 
which were provided by governmental bodies out of public rev- 
enues and others of which were the contributions of private 
philanthropy. It is with these additions that the present chap- 
ter deals. 

The first approach that suggests itself is the purely statistical : 
How large were public expenditures in i860? For what were 
they made? How do they compare with the public expenditures 
of earlier and of later periods ? 

It is difficult to secure uniform and reliable reports on the ex- 
penditures of all the governmental units even today; to secure 
data of a similar sort for i860 is next to impossible. The differ- 
ences in government spending in these two periods are of such a 
magnitude, however, that even relatively large errors in the 
estimates will not vitiate the conclusions. Total expenditures 
•of the federal government, in the fiscal year i860, exclusive of 
public debt retirements, amounted to $72,411,658, or $3.74 per 
capita. 1 Federal expenditures during the year ending June 30, 
1933, exclusive of public debt retirements, trust funds, expendi- 
tures for the District of Columbia, refunds of customs and in- 

1 U.S. Treasury Department, Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the 
State of the Finances for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30 , 1931 (W ashington: Government 
Printing Office, 1932), pp. 454-61. 



ternal revenue, and other nongovernmental costs, were $3,906,- 
600,000, or $31.20 per capita.* Similar figures for later years 
would, of course, be much higher. Even more marked than the 
increase in federal expenditures has been that in state and local 
expenditures, as shown in Table 8. The per capita expenditures 
of the city of Boston in 1 860 were about $20.00. New York City 
spent for public purposes in i860, including interest on debt, 
$10.52 — six times as much as its per capita expenditures in 1790, 
though only one-eighteenth what they were in 1935. 3 

TABLE 8 * 

Expenditures of State and Local Governments 
i860 and 1932 


193 * 

Unit of Government 


Per Capita 


Per Capita 



Cities, towns 

Other local f : 











3 . 594 . 640.000 


$20 . 24 

* Figures for 1932 are the “governmental-cost payments” as given in U.S. Bureau of the Census. 
Financial Statistics of Stoic and Local Governments , 1932 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1935) 
Table 3. Figures for i860 are from the Eighth Census: Mortality and Miscellaneous , p. 5 II, and are prob- 
ably far from complete (they do include $3,248,714 in taxes paid in labor). 

f For 1932 this includes school districts, townships, bridge, dike, drainage, irrigation, road, and other 
districts; for i860 it includes school, poor, road, and miscellaneous taxes. 

According to a recent estimate, “in i860 the average family 
of five paid less than twenty-four dollars taxation, but by 1930 
this amount had grown to approximately four hundred and 
twenty dollars.” 4 The bulk of the increase has been for the cost 
of war (including war-debt financing, pensions, and other re- 
lated expenditures), for the greatly increased cost of schools on 
all levels, 5 for public roads, and for the various activities of city 

* U.S. Statistical Abstract , P* 2 °4> Table 207. 

3 Chester W. Wright, Economic History of the United States (New York; McGraw- 
Hill Book Co., 1941), p. 1034. 

* Carle C. Zimmerman and Merle E. Frampton, The Family and Society (New York; 
D. Van Nostrand Co., 1935), p. ax. 

3 In i860 the total cost of schools on all levels, including both public and private ex- 
penditures, was only $1.26 per free white person (. Eighth Census: Mortality and Miscel- 
laneous , p. 503). 


governments. One competent student of public expenditures 
gives special emphasis to increased expenditures for the regula- 
tion of business, agriculture, and labor; for anti-trust measures, 
pure-food-law enforcement, and similar protective measures; for 
the Federal Trade Commission and Interstate Commerce Com- 
mission; for state commissions of various kinds; for local licens- 
ing and inspection; for public health, including inspection and 
information, and free clinics; for free legal service; for commu- 
nity centers, playgrounds, and beaches; for care of delinquents 
and defectives; and to expenditures attributable to inefficiency 
and graft in administration. 6 

How are we to relate these expenditures to the level of living? 
Strict construction of the Constitution had prevented the fed- 
eral government from providing any goods or services which 
private enterprise might be expected to produce. The expendi- 
tures on the armed forces seem to have been regarded as ade- 
quate; and to introduce the question of whether additional ex- 
penditures for military purposes would have “raised” the level 
of living is futile. The same may be said for the cost of main- 
taining the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of gov- 
ernment and, indeed, for almost all federal expenditures in i860. 
The government had withdrawn from highway construction, 
and the postal system was supposed to be self-supporting. The 
state governments, again, had not expanded their activities to 
provide goods and services for the consumer. The increases in 
their expenditures can be accounted for by the increased admin- 
istrative costs resulting from the growth in population and in 
business activity — in particular by the increase in volume of 
state regulation of business. 

The great increase in public expenditures to i860 was local, 
and here at least part of the increase was occasioned by a greater 
provision of goods and services than in an earlier period. It is 
true that municipalities, too, were expanding their regulatory 
functions — I have already called attention to the inspection of 
food and markets, for instance. But the growth of cities brought 
with it new problems. The old voluntary fire and police depart- 

6 Harold W. Guest* Public Expenditures (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons* 1927). 


ments were totally inadequate. A municipal water supply was 
essential to a crowded population, and sewers had to be pro- 
vided. Greater distances and heavier traffic called for better 
streets and sidewalks, bridges, and (in other local divisions) 
roads. Meanwhile the sordid condition of the poor seemed to 
call for action, and the growing prosperity of the rest of the 
population could be utilized to provide more for the poor. Hu- 
manitarian and democratic impulses led not only to direct poor 
relief, but to public schools, libraries, parks, and museums. 

Some of these contributions to the level of living I have al- 
ready touched upon — water supply, sewerage, refuse removal, 
public health, roads and streets, and others. In the following 
chapters I shall have more to say about schools and libraries, 
parks and museums. There remain certain unrelated contribu- 
tions which I shall speak of here. The more important of these 
are police and fire departments and public poor relief. 

Before passing to these topics I want to revert once more to 
the relation of government expenditures to the level of living 
and to the contrast between such expenditures in the 1850’s and 
the 1930’s. It is important to see that these increased public 
expenditures do not, for the most part, represent transfers from 
private to public business. They are expenditures for goods and 
services which are not, and typically cannot, be provided by 
private enterprise. 7 Expenditures for war can hardly be placed 
in any economic category, and their relation to the level of liv- 
ing is obscure. It is probably true that private education has 
expanded much less rapidly because of the increased expendi- 
ture for public education; at the same time these expenditures 
have brought education to the masses, and it is unlikely that 
private philanthropy and private expenditures for education 
would have done so. Such things as parks and playgrounds, 
practically nonexistent in i860, would never have been ade- 

7 On the other hand, if the resources employed by the various units of government 
were, instead, employed by private enterprise, more goods and services would be pro- 
duced for the market. It cannot be said that the level of living would be “higher” or 
“lower,” but there would be a greater volume of goods and services in some categories, a 
smaller volume in other categories. The effects of government expenditures upon the 
distribution of goods and services are especially significant. 



quately provided except by public expenditures. Measures to 
protect the consumer as a consumer and to protect the health of 
the population are essentially public services, to be paid for 
from public revenues. The enormous expenditure on roads rep- 
resents in large part changes due to the automobile, which was 
unthought-of in i860. And, certainly, expenditures for the poor 
and defective classes do not represent a transfer of function from 
private business to the state. 

Whether all these expenditures are legitimate burdens on the 
taxpayer is open to question. Nevertheless, one must conclude 
that, while the typical American taxpayer is now paying a much 
higher tax bill than he was before the Civil War, he is getting 
something for his money which otherwise he could obtain only 
with difficulty — schools for his children, parks, surfaced roads, 
protection as a consumer, and so on through the long list. Simi- 
larly, one must conclude that the taxpayer of i860 was paying 
higher taxes than he would have in 1790 — hut he, too, was get- 
ting something for his money. 

Municipal police and fire departments . — The trend in public 
expenditures is well illustrated by the change in organization in 
police departments during the nineteenth century. While con- 
ditions in the Colonial period are less idyllic that we sometimes 
like to imagine them, it is certainly true that there was less 
crime and less occasion and opportunity for crime in the villages 
of that period than in the crowded cities of the last half of 
the nineteenth century. The growth of cities made protection 
against fire, too, a more pressing need. Even so, in i860 only a 
very few of the largest cities had full-time paid police and fire 
departments. This does not mean that the cities were complete- 
ly without protection; it means that much of what protection 
there was, was given (voluntarily or involuntarily) without pay- 
ment of salaries — instead of taxes there were contributions of 
time and of work. Such a system, however, could not afford 
adequate protection in the period we are considering. 

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century the duties of po- 
lice protection had always been divided between two entirely 
separate bodies, the night “watch” and the day “ward.” Each 



of these consisted of only a handful of men, untrained (many 
held other jobs under private employment), without uniforms 
and commanding no respect in the community. In the cities 
they were usually organized on a ward basis, were usually deep- 
ly involved in local politics, and seldom showed any disposition 
to work with their colleagues in other wards. The growth of 
cities and the changes in the structure of social life made more 
satisfactory police forces imperative. Boston consolidated its 
watch and ward into a single police department in 1854 — the 
first in the United States — and in 1 858 put the patrolmen in uni- 
form (blue coat, police buttons, blue pants, black vests; the 
chief and captains in dress coats, deputies and patrolmen in 
frock coats). In i860 the force was increased to 2.92 men, a cap- 
tain of detectives was appointed, and a sailboat purchased for 
the use of the harbor police, who manned it with four patrol- 
men. 8 

The police forces of New York City had never been able to 
keep that city's lawlessness in check; and in 1857 the State of 
New York took action by creating a Metropolitan Police Dis- 
trict which in i860 included New York City, Brooklyn, West- 
chester, Richmond, and Queens. Before the new Metropolitan 
Police could assume control, they had to break the determined 
opposition of the mayor and the old police force. In i860 there 
were 1,600 patrolmen (one to every 500 persons in New York 
City, one to every 1,380 in Brooklyn, none elsewhere) and 183 
police of higher rank, paid salaries ranging from $300 a year for 
patrolmen to $5,000 for the superintendent. Philadelphia's po- 
lice, long a public scandal, were reorganized in the fifties, and by 
i860 were well drilled, neat, and clean. But there were not 

8 The best general survey of police departments is Raymond B. Fosdick, American 
IP dice Systems (New York: Century Co., 1920). For local departments see Augustine 
E. Costello, Our Police Protectors (New York: A. E. Costello, 1885); John J. Flinn, 
History of the Chicago Police (Chicago: Police Book Fund, 1887); Leonard V. Harrison, 
Police Administration in Boston (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934); How- 
ard O. Sprogle, The Philadelphia Police: Past and Present (Philadelphia: 1887). Such 
memoirs as Edward H. Savage, A Chronological History of the Boston Watch and Police , 
from 1631 to 1863: Together with the Recollections of a Boston Police Officer (Boston: The 
author, 1865); and George W. Walling, Recollections of a New York Chief of Police (New 
York: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887) are also informative. 


enough of them to protect the city against vandalism by gangs 
and rioters — in 1859 there were 739 miles of streets and alleys 
to patrol, with an active force of only 583 men (123 on the day 
force, and two night forces of 230 men each). In 1860, for the 
first time, they were put in uniform — gray trousers with black 
stripes, single-breasted blue frock coats with brass buttons, and 
a cap with broad top and leather visor. Chicago’s patrolmen 
were sometimes uniformed and sometimes not, depending upon 
the whim of the administration; there were only 50 or 60 of 
them; and throughout the later fifties they were completely 
unable to prevent riots, while gambling and vice flourished. 
Newark, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and New Orleans had also con- 
solidated their day and night forces under a single administra- 

In the other cities and towns there was the same inefficiency 
and confusion that there had always been. In small communi- 
ties there was only a constable or two for a day force, and the few 
night watchmen were ineffectual. In the larger towns and cities 
the watch and ward were distinct organizations, working at 
cross-purposes and frequently unpaid. When salaries were paid, 
they were so small that only the infirm or the incompetent or 
those with other jobs could afford to join the force. 

Fire departments were not upon precisely the same footing as 
police departments. The patrolmen’s duties were not pleasant 
ones, and they had to be performed regularly. No one particu- 
larly wanted to be a patrolman; and to maintain a force the 
members had to be paid something or else required to serve as 
part of their duties to the municipality. But it was fun to be a 
fireman. The only time the fireman had duties to perform was 
when a fire actually broke out, and even then the thrills were 
enough compensation. Besides, there were the social privileges 
conferred by membership in the volunteer companies, and fre- 
quently firemen were exempt from jury service, militia duties, 
and road taxes. Consequently, no fire company ever suffered 
from lack of volunteers (although the volunteers might not come 
from the best element of society), and in several cities the fire 
departments strenuously opposed civic efforts to institute paid 


departments. During the fifties the departments in the cities 
were more and more taken over by gangs of toughs and rowdies, 
more interested in brawling with other companies than in put- 
ting out fires and not infrequently interested also in the loot that 
might be obtained. In a time of wood construction and a total 
lack of any fire-prevention activities, fires were bound to be nu- 
merous, and it was generally believed that the firemen them- 
selves were not above a little arson if there were not fires enough 
to suit them.’ 

Because of these conditions a few cities were putting their 
departments on a full-time paid basis, and the steam fire en- 
gines, first used in the fifties, gave them an opportunity to do so; 
the engines were too expensive for the volunteer companies to 
purchase; and, while they could be operated by smaller com- 
panies than the old hand engines, the enginemen had to be com- 
petent and responsible. In 1 860 Boston and Cincinnati had paid 
departments, and Chicago had put at least the members of the 
steam-engine companies on a full-time basis; elsewhere the com- 
panies were still volunteer. New York did not have a paid de- 
partment until 1865, or Philadelphia until 1870. (In rare in- 
stances, firemen were paid nominal amounts for the time actual- 
ly spent fighting fires, and it was common practice for the city 
to contribute toward the purchase of new equipment.) Boston 
paid its engineers $ 60 . 00 , its firemen $50.00, and drivers $50.00 
a month; Cincinnati paid its firemen $1.25 a day. 

Boston’s was the only department really under direct munici- 
pal control. New York’s departments were only loosely organ- 
ized, and until the creation of the Metropolitan Fire Depart- 
ment in 1865 they were largely free of control. In i860 there 

9 See Herbert Asbury, Ye Oldc Fire Laddies (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930); 
Arthur Wellington Brayley, A Complete History of the Boston Fire Department (Boston: 
John P. Dale & Co., 1889; J. Albert Cassedy, The Firemen's Record (Philadelphia, n.d,); 
Augustine E. Costello, Our Firemen (New York: A. E. Costello, 1887); David A. Dana, 
The Fireman (Boston: James French & Co., 1858); Thomas O'Conner, History of the 
Fire Department of New Orleans (New Orleans, 1895); Alfred Sanderson, Historical 
Sketch of the Union Fire Company No . i y of the City of Lancaster , from 1760 to 1879 (Lan- 
caster: The company, 1879); and George W. Sheldon, The Story of the Volunteer Fire 
Department of the City of New York (New York: Harper & Bros., 1882). There are other 
histories of local departments, a few books and brochures on the old fire engines, and a 
considerable amount of information in local histories and in travelers' accounts. 



were 50 engine companies, 56 hose companies, and 17 hook and 
ladder companies, with a total force of 4,227 men. As the popu- 
lation moved up town, the practice of “bunking” became more 
common — downtown companies almost had to provide sleeping 
quarters for their members. Those sleeping in the engine-house 
could get the apparatus ready, or even to the fire, while the 
other firemen were arriving. Philadelphia’s department was 
nominally under the city’s control, but the firemen were dis- 
tinguished above all else for their rioting. In 1858 there were 
43 engine companies, 37 hose companies, 5 hook and ladder com- 
panies, and 1 steam-engine company, with a combined total of 
2,100 active members. 

The introduction of steam fire engines began in 1853, when 
a Cincinnati builder finally succeeded in making one that seemed 
practical. These early engines were frequently defeated in 
pumping matches against hand engines, but they had more en- 
durance and by the later fifties had been so improved as to leave 
no doubt of their superiority over the hand variety. They were, 
however, heavy and required horses for motive power — the hand 
engines had usually been pulled to the fire by the members of 
the company. By i860 there were steam fire engines in Cin- 
cinnati (7), Boston, New York City (3 ?), Buffalo (1 ; 6 by 1861- 
62), Philadelphia (21, at an average cost of 13,250), Chicago 
(6), St. Louis (4, more ordered), Baltimore (1), New Orleans (1 ; 
7 by 1861), and Louisville (5) and perhaps in other cities. In 
Baltimore, Buffalo, and Louisville and very likely in other cities 
the steam fire engines were immediately put in charge of paid 
fire departments, while the others were allowed to continue on a 
volunteer basis. As more engines were ordered, the whole de- 
partment was gradually put on a paid basis, with no attendant 

Still another improvement in fire-fighting adopted by a few 
metropolitan departments was the fire-alarm telegraph, by 
means of which fires could be immediately reported to the cen- 
tral office and bells rung to indicate the district. (Districts were 
so large that it still took some little time before the fire depart- 


ments finally located the fire.) By i860 there were fire-alarm 
telegraphs in Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Baltimore, and 
New Orleans. New York City had only the beginnings of a sys- 
tem and went without a complete system until 1869. While the 
fire departments were being made more efficient by the new 
steam engines and fire-alarm telegraph, their work was being 
made easier for them by the expansion of the municipal water- 
works. Reservoirs were larger and more available, the pumps 
could supply more pressure, and there was less need to depend 
upon wells and cisterns. 

Meanwhile, in other cities the fire departments remained un- 
touched by these new developments. In a city of some size 
there would be a number of hand engines, hose carriages, and 
hook and ladder carriages, with full equipment of hose, buckets, 
axes, and other supplies, all standing ready to be run out by 
volunteers when a fire broke out. In a village the fire depart- 
ment might consist only of some buckets and ladders, readily 
available in case of emergency. Between the two were all possi- 
ble variations. But in any community the volunteers were more 
than just firefighters. They were a social organization who kept 
their engines brilliantly decorated and polished, ready for pa- 
rades (in some cities the parade engines were too resplendent to 
take to fires), and whose balls enlivened the social calendar. To 
the last they strenuously resisted the attempts to break up their 
companies and supersede them with small, full-time, paid com- 

Public poor relief . — In the New England states poor relief fol- 
lowed the Elizabethan pattern. There were strict requirements 
for settlement, and the town where the pauper was “settled” 
was responsible for his support if there were no relatives who 
could be held liable. Adults were contracted out to the lowest 
bidder, maintained by the selectmen, or placed in the poorhouse 
or farm. The poorhouses were used to care for all kinds of de- 
pendents — the sick and infirm, the aged, orphans, drunkards, 
lunatics, ne’er-do-wells — and had a well-earned reputation for 
allowing inmates the absolute minimum of the necessities of 



life. 10 Pauper children were, if possible, apprenticed, and in 
some states able-bodied adults, if shiftless, were also bound out. 
Although expenses were kept at a minimum (one Rhode Island 
town allowed only $56 a person for a full year’s total support), 
poor relief was a major element in public expenditures. A Con- 
necticut commission estimated that care of the poor accounted 
for nearly a third of all town expense in the state and 90 per cent 
of all state expenditure. 11 During the fifties there were the be- 
ginnings of “institutionalism,” especially in such states as Mas- 
sachusetts, where there were a great number of paupers to be 
looked after. Lunatics were most commonly segregated in state 
institutions, there were a few state poorhouses, a few schools for 
the children among the “state’s poor,” and perhaps a few special 
institutions for defectives other than lunatics. 

New York State had a particularly heavy burden of poor re- 
lief to carry. During the year ending December 1,18 59, 228,517 
town and county paupers had been relieved or supported and 

10 S. H. Elliot’s A Look at Home: Or, Life in the Poorhouse of New England (New 
York; H. Dexter & Co., i860), though intended as “propaganda,” comes pretty close to 
the truth. 

11 There are now a number of studies of the history of public welfare activities in 
various states. See, for instance, John E. Briggs, History of Social Legislation in Iowa 
(Iowa City: Iowa State University, 1915); Grace A. Browning, The Development of 
Poor Relief Legislation in Kansas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1935); Isabel 
Campbell Bruce and Edith Eickhoff, The Michigan Poor Law (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1936); Frances Cahn and Valeska Bary, Welfare Activities of Federal, 
State , and Local Governments in California , 1850-1934 (Berkeley: University of Cali- 
fornia Press, 1936); Edward Warren Capen, The Historical Development of the Poor Law 
of Connecticut (“Columbia University Studies in Political Science,” Yol. XXII [New 
York, 1905]); Margaret Creech, Three Centuries of Poor Law Administration (Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1936); John Cummings, Poor Laws of Massachusetts and 
New York (“Publications of the American Economic Association,” Vol. X, No. 4 [New 
York: Macmillan Co., 1895]); William Clinton Heffner, History of Poor Relief Legisla- 
tion in Pennsylvania , 1682-1913 (Cleona, Pa.: Holzapfel Pub. Co., 1913); Robert W. 
Kelso, The History of Public Poor Relief in Massachusetts , 1620-1920 (Boston: Hough- 
ton Mifflin Co., 1922); Aileen Elizabeth Kennedy, The Ohio Poor Law and Its Adminis- 
tration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934); David M. Schneider, The History 
of Public Welfare in New York State , 1609-1866 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 
1938); Alice Shaffer and Mary Wysor Keefer, The Indiana Poor Law (Chicago: Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press, 1936); and Elizabeth Wisner, Public Welfare Administration in 
Louisiana (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930). 



229,787 temporarily relieved. 12 There were county poorhouses 
in fifty-five of the state’s sixty counties and at least a dozen 
town and other institutions for the support of the poor. 13 What 
these poorhouses were like may be seen from the report of a 
Senate committee: 

The poorhouses through the State may be generally described as badly 
constructed, ill-arranged, ill-warmed and ill-ventilated. The rooms are 
crowded with inmates; and the air, particularly in the sleeping departments 
is very noxious, and to visitors almost insufferable. In some cases, as many as 
forty-five inmates occupy a single dormitory, with low ceilings and sleeping 
boxes arranged in three tiers one above another. Good health is incompatible 
with such arrangements. They make it an impossibility. 1 * 

Many lacked facilities for giving medical attention, proper clas- 
sification was neglected, the moral atmosphere was low, and the 
food insufficient and poor. Little effort was made to find work 
for the inmates, and the treatment of the mentally incompetent 
was shocking. Outside "New York City there was little success 
in getting even the children out of the poorhouses — in 1857 there 
were still 5,403 children in poorhouses in the state. 15 New York 
City alone had more paupers than most states : during 1857 the 
city almshouse admitted 4,202 (2,705 of them Irish), the nursery 
department at Randall’s Island cared for 2,155 children, and the 
workhouse for 5 ,369. 16 The children were sent to school and at 
an age not under ten were apprenticed. In i860 the city created 
a Department of Public Charities and Correction, having charge 
of the almshouse, the workhouse, the “nurseries” for destitute 
children, the county lunatic asylum, the potter’s field, the peni- 
tentiary and city prison, and the hospitals connected with them. 

In Pennsylvania minors were bound out, though with the ex- 
press provision that children were to be given at least three 

13 New York, Secretary of State, Annual Report in Relation to Statistics of the Poor in 
the State of New York: Transmitted to the Legislature , February ir , i860 (Albany, i860), 
PP- 4 - 5 * 

13 Census of the State of New York for 1865, pp. 572-73. 

14 Quoted in Schneider, pp. 249-50. 15 Ibid., pp. 340-43. 

16 New York City, Annual Report of the Governors of the Alms House for the Year 1857 
(New York, 1858), passim. 



months of schooling a year, and adults having settlement were 
usually placed in a county or district poorhouse. Most of the 
agricultural counties had poor farms, and for the most part 
those willing and able to work were given work and provided 
with the materials they needed. Philadelphia’s almshouse con- 
sisted of four main buildings with a capacity of 3,000 persons 
and an insane asylum with a capacity of 300; two other insane 
asylums and institutions for the deaf and dumb and for the 
blind were operated in connection with it. 

In the states of the Old Northwest, which inherited the Eliza- 
bethan poor law by way of New England, there was the usual 
confusion between permanent and temporary poor and between 
town and county responsibility, the usual lack of state responsi- 
bility, and the usual tendency toward institutional and away 
from outdoor relief. Paupers who were properly “settled” and 
so entitled to relief might be cared for in town or county poor- 
houses or contracted out. More and more counties were acquir- 
ing poor farms, which gave the poor something to do and aided 
in reducing expenses. Children were apprenticed. In Chicago 
the county poorhouse was unable to satisfy the demands made 
upon it, and the city shifted as many of its burdens as possible 
to private benefactors and philanthropic agencies. “Where the 
government did assume responsibility, conditions sometimes re- 
flected an inability to control or an insensitiveness to under- 
stand.” 17 

In the South there were fewer paupers to be supported at pub- 
lic expense. 18 A large part of the population were slaves, who 
were the planters’ responsibility, and there was a smaller urban 
population, almost completely free from the new immigration 
which was imposing such a burden upon the northeastern states. 

Legally, the poor were the unpropertied class, persons incapable in the opin- 
ion of the wardens to earn a living by reason of physical or mental incapacity 
to labor. A child was not permitted to become a pauper even in infancy if it 
was possible to apprentice him to someone who was willing to give him 

17 Pierce, II, 338. 

18 See the statistics on pauperism. Eighth Census: Mortality and Miscellaneous, 
p. 312. 


maintenance in return for the labor rendered. As a rule, therefore, the legal 
poor were afflicted children, idiots, insane persons, invalids, crippled and 
aged persons. 1 ’ 

The poor were cared for by allowances to individual paupers, by 
letting the paupers out on contract, by selling them to the low- 
est bidder, or by poorhouses. Private philanthropy seems to 
have been a bigger factor than in the North in caring for the 

On the Frontier the legal provisions, where there were any, 
were similar to those in the East — apprenticing, county poor- 
houses and poor farms, and so on — but there were few paupers, 
and it is doubtful if these early laws ever functioned. In Cali- 
fornia there were “hospitals” in some counties to care for the 
poor; in others private persons contracted to provide for them. 
Not until 1 879 was there any provision for the needy other than 
those who were sick. 


The philanthropists of the period . — There were few large phi- 
lanthropies before the Civil War. Of those still remembered in 
i860 the largest was Stephen Girard’s bequest in 1831, which 
finally amounted to nearly seven million dollars. This went to 
found Girard College, to Philadelphia and to the state of Penn- 
sylvania, and to charities. John Jacob Astor had died in 1848, 
leaving about five hundred thousand dollars of his twenty-mil- 
lion-dollar estate to public objects; four hundred thousand went 
to found the Astor Library. 

Other gifts of the period, some of them appearing munificent 
at the time, are small by modern standards. Peter Cooper spent 
six hundred and sixty thousand dollars on Cooper Union. Wil- 
liam Corcoran gave his art collection and funds to build an art 
gallery (completed after the Civil War), besides making a few 
contributions to schools, asylums, and other institutions. John 
Lowell, Jr., gave a quarter of a million to found the Lowell Lec- 
tures. George Peabody, an American who from 1 837 made Lon- 

*9 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 690. 



don his home, gave a quarter of a million to Peabody Institute, 
a million dollars to Baltimore for another institute, a large sum 
to the Southern Educational Fund, and made large bequests, 
after the war, to Harvard, Yale, and other schools and institu- 
tions. At his death in 1869 he had given a total of nine million 
dollars, three million of it to the Southern Educational Fund. 
Matthew Vassar, a brewer, gave four hundred thousand dollars 
to found Vassar College, which was incorporated in 1861,' 
opened in 1865. 

This does not exhaust the list of major philanthropists; but it 
does include, as far as I am aware, all the Americans who, be- 
tween 1850 and 1865, gave as much as a quarter of a million dol- 
lars to public objects. It is not a long list, and, except for Girard 
and Peabody, none of the men gave great amounts. For this 
there are at least two reasons. One is that there was no “social 
conscience” to demand that the rich give back their fortunes in 
the form of philanthropies, and there was little disposition on 
the part of the rich to do so — the Astor fortune is a case in point. 
Prestige was acquired by accumulating fortunes, not by giving 
them away. 

The other reason I think of is that there were few really 
wealthy men. The only great fortune I know of, aside from 
those of the men already named, was that of Nicholas Long- 
worth, who left about thirteen million dollars at his death in 
1863. In 1850, according to contemporary estimates, there 
were twenty-five millionaires in New York, eighteen in Boston, 
and nine in Philadelphia, few of them possessing more than two 
million dollars. A few years later there were supposed to be 
ninety-one millionaires in New York. 20 In the South there were 
few, if any, large fortunes. 

Organized philanthropies . — Since the rich could not be ex- 
pected to bear a very heavy load of philanthropy, the private 
charities had to rely almost entirely upon the small gifts of per- 
sons of moderate means. As Appendix A makes plain, there was 
not a very large number of people even with incomes of a few 

30 C. W. Wright, p. 1037. 


thousand dollars, so we need not be surprised if the aggregate of 
all charities was not great. A few examples of the work of phil- 
anthropic agencies will give some idea of their scope and their 

One of the oldest benevolent societies still functioning in i860 
was the Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachu- 
setts, which had been in existence since 1785. The Humane So- 
ciety engaged in many activities, chiefly life-saving along the 
coast and caring for the survivors of shipwrecks, but also includ- 
ing contributions to hospitals and other charities. 

Outstanding among charitable groups in New York was the 
Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, organized 
in 1 843 for personal contact with the poor and for granting ma- 
terial relief sparingly and only in small amounts. Its emphasis 
was on moral assistance. In the fifties it was making from forty 
to fifty thousand visits a year, spending from forty to seventy 
thousand dollars. The Five Points House of Industry was an 
outgrowth of a Methodist mission in one of New York’s toughest 
neighborhoods. It was intended to give the poor a chance to 
help themselves and had a sewing-room, a bakery, a basket- 
making workroom, and other workshops. There was a day 
school in connection and a farm to which children and adults 
could be sent for recuperation. The Children’s Aid Society of 
New York was founded in 1853 by Charles Loring Brace for 
“the training and the general improvement of the conditions of 
the homeless and friendless children roaming the streets of New 
York.” It furnished lodgings and meals for a few cents each to 
thousands of boys in its Newsboys’ Lodging House, sheltered 
homeless girls in its Girls’ Home, instructed thousands of chil- 
dren in its industrial schools, and, beginning in the fifties, sent 
hundreds of children to new homes in the West. 

The American Seamen’s Friend Society, founded in 1828, had 
seamen’s churches in foreign ports, sailors’ homes in New York 
and other cities, and carried on work for seamen in numerous 
coast and inland cities. In 1859 it started collecting loan li- 
braries, and in i860 sent ninety-four of them to sea. The New 
York Female Benevolent Society was organized in 1833; and an- 



other group, withdrawing from it the next year, started the New 
York Female Moral Reform Society, with aid in finding employ- 
ment one of its objectives. The American Female Moral Reform 
Society was organized in 1839 an d undertook prison-work, lob- 
bying, missionary work, and the maintenance of a home for des- 
titute children. In 1849 it took the name “American Female 
Guardian Society” and in the fifties conducted industrial 
schools for street children. 21 

There were innumerable societies, besides the missionary 
boards and Bible societies of which I shall speak in the next 
chapter, engaged in charitable work of various sorts; the city 
directories of the fifties list dozens of charities. In New York 
City alone in 1853 there were 90 charities, besides zz asylums, 
8 hospitals, and 7 dispensaries. There were 75 fraternal soci- 
eties, many with benevolent functions. 22 Private charity was 
largely responsible for the country’s Z3 asylums for the blind, 
with their thousand pupils. 23 There were the American Coloni- 
zation Society (organized in 1817), whose mission was to send 
Negroes to Liberia, and there were homes for indigent females. 
Orphans were a favorite object of charity, and there were dozens 
of orphan asylums scattered throughout the country. 

Such were the philanthropies of the fifties. There were no 
huge foundations, no large expenditures. The growing humani- 
tarian movement was still closely tied up with the leaders in the 
campaign for moral reform; the “moral” element was more im- 
portant than the material aid these societies could give, and 
their members were stronger on devoted personal service than 
they were on raising and administering funds. However nar- 
row some of these reformers may have been, we must give them 
credit for realizing the need for action; and I am not altogether 
convinced that their “moral” assistance was not a more vital 
contribution than the large amounts of material assistance doled 
out in our present enlightened age. 

31 For similar societies in Chicago see Pierce, II, 442-48. 

23 E. Douglas Branch, The Sentimental Years , 1836-1860 (New York: D. Appleton- 
Century Co., 1934), pp. 199-aoo. 

23 Fite, p. 299, citing U.S. House Executive Doc., No. 116 (37th Cong., 2d sess). 




The “democratization” of education . — The American people 
had, from Colonial days, believed in education. I can think of 
no way of phrasing it other than just that: they believed in it. 
It was an uncritical, unreasoning faith. There was no attempt 
to discover what the aims of education were or what education 
should be if those aims were to be realized. No one seems to 
have raised the question of whether mass education introduced 
any problems other than simply providing schools. But the 
American ideal of political equality seemed to call for the edu- 
cation of the voter-citizen; the doctrine of equality of economic 
opportunity seemed unrealizable without equality of education- 
al opportunity. The old theocratic governments of New Eng- 
land had fostered schools, and the church itself survived the 
theocracies as an active force in American life — a force which 
continued to emphasize education. On the college level the 
churches long made greater contributions to education than did 
the states. 

Despite this belief in education, the United States had been a 
nation for nearly a century before the ideal of universal free 
education seemed within reach. During those years the econ- 
omy’s capacity to produce remained so low that education con- 
tinued to be a luxury: children and teachers could not be re- 
moved from the labor supply, and schools and books provided, 
without leaving the production of material goods perilously low. 
In the ante bellum North the time was arriving when the ideal 
could be achieved, and free schools made universal. The South, 
its population scattered and unindustrialized, lagged behind. 
The West shared these handicaps of a rural population, but in 
ideals it shared more closely with the North, and it seemed to be 



making more determined efforts than the South to provide its 
children with schools. 

This gradual attainment of an ideal long held can hardly be 
interpreted apart from the economic development of the coun- 
try — the growth and urbanization of the population, industrial- 
ization and technical progress, the accumulation of wealth. 1 As 
these made possible a rising scale of living, humanitarian move- 
ments and the labor movement 2 resulted in an increasing pres- 
sure on cities and states to provide free schools. The continuous 
movement of the population, and particularly the westward 
movement, carried with it this new insistence on the old ideals, 
from which no section of the country could be completely iso- 
lated. It is possible, too, that the immigrants from Europe had 
their own contribution to make to American education. 

The elementary schools . — At best it is difficult to devise units 
in which educational progress can be measured. The difficulties 
are greater for i860 than for more recent years, not only because 
the reports are incomplete, but to an even greater degree be- 
cause of the extreme variability of standards in that day. “High 
schools” were frequently only more advanced elementary 
schools; and “colleges” were frequently no more advanced than 
present-day high schools. The editor of the statistics on educa- 
tion in the Eighth Census (i860), after several pages of tables, 
summaries, and analyses, finally made a heroic guess and put 
the number of elementary schools in the country at 100,000 pub- 
lic and 50,000 private, plus 171 special schools, for defectives, 
delinquents, and orphans. 3 

In Table 45 of Appendix G, I have reproduced some of the 
more significant of the Census summaries. In the country as a 

1 For an extended treatment of this thesis see Frank T. Carlton, Economic Influences 
upon Educational Progress in the U nited States , 1820-1850 (“University of Wisconsin 
Economics and Political Science Series/’ Vol. IV, No. 1 [Bulletin of the University No. 
aai; Madison, 1908]). 

3 One of the first clearly articulated demands of the American labor movement was 
the demand for free schools. This may not have been wholly idealistic: the more chil- 
dren there were in school, the fewer there were in the labor market and the less the pres- 
sure on the wage level. 

3 Mortality and Miscellaneous, p. 509. The earlier pages (pp. 50 3 ff.) contain much 
interesting data I have not been able to incorporate here. 


whole about 60 white persons were in school for every 100 white 
children between the ages of five and. nineteen. 4 In the North 
this ratio was about 67 to 100 (varying from about 51 in Mis- 
souri, a doubtfully northern state, to nearly 89 in Maine); in the 
South the average was 44I to the hundred (varying from 2.8 in 
Florida to over 56 in Delaware) ; and in the West about 40 to 100 
(64 in Oregon, while none at all were reported in school in Colo- 
rado and Nevada). If the number attending school is compared 
with the number of persons aged five to fourteen, 85 were at- 
tending school for every 100 in that age group: in the North 96 
(Maine 132 and the other New England states well above the 
average), in the South 63, and in the West 55. 

Properly to evaluate these figures one would have to take ac- 
count of differences in the length of the school term, as well as of 
differences in the regularity of attendance. For this reason the 
actual length of the period of schooling is a somewhat more sig- 
nificant index. The United States Bureau of Education esti- 
mates that by i860 each person in the population received dur- 
ing his life, on the average, 434 days of schooling (or, in terms of 
school-months of 20 days each, 21 months and 14 days). This 
was a decided improvement over 1800, when the average had 
been only 82 days (4 months and 2 days), but was still far below 
the attainments of 1930, when the average was 1,591 days (79 
months and n days). 

What were these children being taught during their 434 days 
in school ? s The historians of education have had little to say 
about the ante bellum curriculum ; but it appears that in the ele- 
mentary grades the children received instruction in spelling, 
reading, grammar, penmanship, arithmetic, geography, and 
morals. Such subjects as singing and drawing still received only 
irregular attention. It would be interesting to know more about 

♦ No explanation is made in the Census as to the distinction between the "number 
attending school” and the smaller "number of pupils.” Presumably, the "number at- 
tending” represents total enrolment, the "number of pupils” being an average attend- 
ance. The difference between enrolment and attendance was everywhere very great — 
see below, pp. 298-99. 

* For the quality of the instruction see below, p. 302. 


what subjects were taught and how they were taught and what 
books were used. 

Legally, the rate-bill had been everywhere abolished in cities 
by i860 and existed in rural and town schools in only five states. 6 
This did not mean that free schools were immediately forthcom- 
ing. Arthur Charles Cole writes: 

In most Eastern states the “rate-bill” lingered in whole or in part. This 
practice involved a charge upon parents to supplement the school revenues 
and prolong the school term and was assessed in proportion to the number of 
pupils in each family. While provision was made for its remittance in the 
case of parents who could not pay, there were many whose pride kept them 
from declaring their need and whose children were therefore kept out of 
school. In New York state the issue of free schools was fought out in a series 
of popular referenda in which the city voters advocating tax-supported schools 
met heavy opposition from the rural counties and from the supporters of the 
parochial system. The result was a compromise which continued the state 
rate bill in effect — it was not repealed until 1867 — and at the same time 
authorized such school districts as wished to do so to provide free schools 
by local taxation. Under this arrangement New York City organized a system 
of free schools. In June, 1853, therefore, the Public School Society of that 
metropolis, which had maintained an expensive system on its own account, 
decided that its goal had been achieved and agreed to surrender its schools to 
the local board of education. Nowhere, aside from a mild requirement in 
Massachusetts, was there as yet the feature of compulsory attendance. 7 

Making the schools of New York City free did not immediate- 
ly bring all the children into them. The Board of Public School 
Officers, in 1856, estimated that 60,000 children between the 
ages of five and fifteen were not attending school. In 1858 the 
number of children registered for school was 139, 441, but the 
average attendance was only 5U430. 8 The problem of rural edu- 
cation was even less adequately met. J. D. Burns wrote that in 
1863 the rural schools of New York and New Jersey were likely 
to be little better than none. The buildings were dilapidated, 

6 Ellwood P. Cubberly, Public Education in the United States (Boston: Houghton 
Mifflin Co., 1934), P- 273. 

7 Irrepressible Conflict , pp. 207-8. Massachusetts' general compulsory education law 
dated from 1862 (Henry W. Farnum, Chapters in the History of Social Legislation in the 
United States to i860 [Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1938], p. 164). 

8 Annual Report of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor , for the 
Year 1861 , p. 52. This and other Association reports discuss the truancy problem in 
New York. For an Englishwoman's opinion of New York schools see Isabella Bishop, 
pp. 346-51- 


there were no playgrounds, and the books were poor. 9 On the 
basis of Census reports, Pennsylvania schools were no better at- 
tended than those of New York, although as early as 1809 the 
Pennsylvania legislature had founded the public school system 
by passing an act to provide for the education of the poor; in 
1836 it had been specifically declared that the benefits of the 
act were not to be restricted to the poor. 10 

When it is remembered that the school systems of the other 
states fell as far short of perfection as those of New York and 
Pennsylvania, there is no need to labor the point that even the 
North had a long way to go before reaching its goal. In Chicago 
estimates put the number of children not attending school in 
1856 at more than 4,000, or about a fourth of those between the 
ages of five and fifteen; many more went less than a month. The 
school buildings failed to keep pace with the school population, 
and, despite the use of ramshackle wooden structures built for 
other purposes, children had to stand. Even the passage in 1857 
of a law providing for the financial support of the schools by the 
city property tax and the creation of a board of education the 
same year failed to improve matters very much. 11 

That southern education compared unfavorably with that of 
the North was recognized by many southerners, 11 but little was 

9 P. 1 57. This is not surprising, considering that in the country as a whole the aver- 
age annual income of all public schools was only $4 .53 per pupil; the total cost of all 
educational institutions ($33,990,482) was only $1.26 per free white person {Eighth Cen- 
sus: Mortality and Miscellaneous , p. 503). 

10 Edward P. Allinson and Boies Penrose, Philadelphia , 1681-188/ (“Johns Hop- 
kins University Studies in Historical and Political Science,” Extra Vol. II [Baltimore, 
1887]), pp. 97-98 and 227. 

11 Pierce, II, 339, 391. During the year ending February x, i860, when there were 
52,861 children under twenty-one in Chicago, only 14,199 were enrolled in school, and 
the average daily enrolment was only 6,649; during the year ending February 1, 1861, 
the total enrolment was 16,547 and the average daily enrolment, 7,582. Cost of the 
schools per pupil, based on daily enrolment, was $12.61 and $12.67 in the two years, 
respectively (Pierce, II, 512-13). 

13 Cf. the numerous articles on educational topics in De Bow's Review and other south- 
ern periodicals. What the North thought of southern education may be judged from 
Long’s opinion: “Very little provision is made for the education of the poor. The school- 
houses are lonely, desolate, wretched-looking, one story buildings, situated with no re- 
gard to shade, convenience, or play-grounds. What windows! what doors! what benches 
without backs! what fine places to give the boys spinal diseases and consumption! There 
is not much difficulty in raising money in the South for a barbecue, or to procure pine 



done about it. Young sons of the planters were tutored until 
ready for college, and there were governesses for the daughters. 
It was common for the families of several planters to share the 
services of teachers and governesses. 13 In North Carolina the 
“subscription” (private) schools were for the most part rude 
cabins, poorly lighted and ill equipped, and the public school 
buildings were little better. Equipment was of the meagerest: 
few had playgrounds; many had no outhouses; and globes, 
maps, and even blackboards were rare; there were small and un- 
comfortable benches for seats, rude planks for desks. 14 In Ala- 
bama the beginning of the fifties found education a matter of 
private enterprise; the close of the decade found the state as- 
suming responsibility. There were still few schools, these poorly 
equipped; and even in the fifties and after many schools were 
dilapidated log cabins.. It was the custom for a group of plant- 
ers to assume responsibility for schooling their own children and 
to admit others at stated rates. is Some southern cities had free 
schools: Savannah had had free schools since 1816. 16 

Up to the fifties there had been little time for education in the 
Old Northwest: 

In 1850 only a few schools were available in the West and terms were often 
three months or less. Over two-thirds of the buildings were log houses, many 
of the rest were shanties or temporary shacks. In one Illinois county the 
average worth of twenty-one buildings was sixty-five dollars. Now, however, 
came rapid development. The organization of a public system under state 
superintendents of instruction and the principle of free education were 
promptly adopted. Wisconsin’s first constitution (1848) opened the doors of 
th£ schools freely to all. Indiana and Ohio followed in 1852 and 1853. The 
next year Illinois made provision for a state school tax, for unlimited taxa- 

and hickory poles and flags, or to buy whiskey, for political purposes; but when funds 
are wanted for a library, to build a school-house, or to increase the salary of a school 
teacher — that is quite another question” (Long, p. 89). 

X3 Smedes, pp. 78-81; Hopley, I, 48. One of the many young men from the North 
who went South as a teacher was Van Buren, whose memoirs are of some interest. 

14 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 311-13. 

xS Boyd, pp. 119-21. She gives as typical prices for schoolbooks: reader, 25 cents; 
speller and definer, 25 cents; speller, 10 cents; arithmetic, 15 cents; grammar, 23 cents; 
geography (with plates), $1.25; astronomy, $1.25; philosophy and physiology, $1.00 
each (p.137). 

16 Tenth Census , XIX, 175 (see also Burke, pp. 195 ff., for Georgia schools). 


tion, and for a free school term of six months in every district. The number 
of schools doubled and trebled, while enrollment increased even more rapidly. 
Soon Illinois was boasting that only one child of school age in fifteen was not 
in attendance and that the average term was nearly seven months . 17 

In one Illinois village the first school was held in an old, unused 
cabin, where long, wide, unplaned boards were supported by 
pegs set into holes bored in the wall. The schools of the early 
fifties were subscription schools — supported by parents or pa- 
trons — but the middle fifties free schools came in with general 
taxation. 18 

The Iowa school described by MacBride, built by a “raising 
bee,” was much better than the typical frontier school. It had a 
granite foundation, on which were laid the logs, beveled and 
notched. The floor was of slabs, the roof shingled, and the walls 
— with long, narrow glass windows — chinked with mortar. The 
ceiling was close-battened, and the fireplace opened into an out- 
side chimney. Benches were of slabs and fitted poles, and the 
desks were of inch board. 19 In Denver, Golden, and other Colo- 
rado towns the first schools were log cabins, with leaky roofs and 
unglazed windows, sometimes without doors; as time went on 
these were replaced with frame buildings. There were no free 
schools in Colorado until 1861 — the expenses were met by tui- 
tion charges of $1.50 or $3.00 a month. 20 In Utah there was lit- 
tle coined money until the railroad came through, and the 
schools — rock, adobe, frame, or log — were built by co-operative 
effort. Seats were boards supported by pegs set into the walls, 
and small children sat on blocks; there were no blackboards, 
maps, or regular schoolbooks, no paper (scraps of wastepaper 
were saved for school, and in some schools the children even used 

17 A. C. Cole, pp. 205-6. 

x8 C. B. Johnson, pp. 97-101; chap, x describes the country schools. 

19 MacBride, pp. 71-74. 

30 A. J. Fynn and L. R. Hafen, “Early Education in Colorado,” Colorado Magazine , 
XII (1935), 13-23; O. J. Goldrick, “The First School in Denver, ” Colorado Magazine , VI 
(1929), 72-74. Throughout the West the first schools were private schools. Previous to 
1859 nearly all Kansas schools were private, and it was only beginning in that year that 
rapid progress in public schooling was made there; the Dakotas in 1 861 had a few private 
schools but none public (Edwin G. Dexter, A History of Education in the United States 
[New York: Macmillan Co., 1922], pp. 1 19-21), 


the palms of their hands for slates). Some schools had desks and 
seats of split logs and stakes; some had glass windows, some had 
fireplaces. 21 

Teacher-training. — An ever present problem, and one intensi- 
fied by the sudden growth in public education, was that of secur- 
ing satisfactory instruction. The East took the lead in prepar- 
ing teachers; and in i860 nine northern states had the twelve 
state normal schools, while the fifteen other states having teach- 
ers’ institutes were all in the northeastern quarter. 22 New Jersey 
required of its teachers that they be “distinct and accurate 
readers,” be able to spell correctly and write a legible hand, and 
be well versed in the definition of words, in arithmetic, geogra- 
phy, history (American history, at least), and in English gram- 
mar; in addition they were expected to have good morals and a 
proper attitude. 23 Even with these modest requirements, com- 
petent teachers were not easily obtained in out-of-the-way lo- 
calities, where only small remuneration could be made. In 1863 
the average salary paid to male teachers in the country schools 
was said to be $380 a year and to female teachers $233. 24 

Secondary schools . — “For the average boy and girl of 1850 
public education ended in the common schools. Some fortunate 
few continued their training in the private or semi-private 
academies that were just reaching the zenith of their develop- 
ment.” 25 While the period of rapid expansion of academies was 
over — the increase between 1850 and i860 (from 6,085 acad- 
emies, with 12,260 teachers and 263,096 pupils, to 6,877 acad- 
emies, with 16,247 teachers and 263,096 pupils, according to the 
Census) failed to match the growth in population — the great 

31 L. E. Young, pp. 295-96, 306-8, 314. 

33 Cubberly, p. 324. It is interesting to note that a writer in a southern periodical, 
calling for an expansion of the Louisiana system of education, saw no need for normal 
schools — the graduates of New Orleans high schools were good enough for teachers (. De 
Bow's Review , XVIII [1855], 421-22). 

3 s Burns, chap. viii. 

3 4 Ibid., p. 164; see also Appen. B. 

35 A. C. Cole, p. 208. Only 169 boys and girls attended Chicago’s high school in its 
first year (1856), and as late as 1869-70 less than 1 per cent of the school population en- 
rolled in high school (Pierce, II, 390, 393), 


majority of advanced students were still in academies, and the 
establishment of academies was going on steadily. 26 One in 70 of 
the white population was supposed to have attended an acad- 
emy during this period, but little is known as to the average 
length of schooling or standards of work. 27 There was active 
rivalry between the advocates of public high schools and of 
academies. 28 

The academies varied greatly in their physical equipment and 
in their educational standards. Most of them were, to say the 
least, undistinguished. At the other extreme was the old Boston 
Latin School, described by Henry Cabot Lodge: 

Charles Adams was in like manner dissatisfied with the instruction given in 
the Boston Latin School. At that period we had the old-fashioned classical cur- 
riculum. Latin, Greek, mathematics, a little classical history and geography, 
and exercises in declamation. The methods of teaching were largely mechani- 
cal: learning by rote the Latin and Greek grammars, which were reviewed 
every year, writing Latin exercises, memorizing the Greek and Latin prosodies 
in order to read and to recite Latin and Greek verse, and in those days to make 
a false quantity in Latin was little short of a crime. It was not the best method 
of learning languages, which should be acquired as we acquire our own tongue 
by practice and ear and then syntax and prosody can follow. But there was 
nevertheless a real mental discipline in it and boys came out of school with 
considerable knowledge of Greek and Latin. Since then the field of studies 
has been greatly extended and the methods of teaching it in some directions 
no doubt improved, but the net result seems to be that boys now know less 
about more subjects than they did in the middle of the nineteenth century and 
it is not apparent that they are any better fitted to use, control, and apply 
their minds, which is after all the real purpose of education. 2 ? 

In the South, while some academies were of brick, the rural 
academies were often simple frame buildings. They had some- 
what better equipment than did the elementary schools — better 
desks and seats, sometimes maps, globes, and blackboards — but 

26 Elmer E. Brown, The Making of Our Middle Schools (New York: Longmans, Green 
& Co., 1928), p. 314. In Chicago alone during the twenty years beginning with 1850 
about 200 schools were opened on a tuition basis, most of them for secondary education 
(Pierce, II, 395-9 8). 

2 7 Isaac L. Kandel, History of Secondary Education (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 
1930), p. 418. 

38 Brown, pp. 314-21. 

2 9 In his memorial address, prefixed to Adams’ autobiography, Charles Francis 
Adams y 1835-1915 (pp* xxiii-xxiv) ; see also Adams’ own criticism of the Boston Latin 
School (p. 22). 



were otherwise mediocre. 30 Similarly in the West, Illinois acad- 
emies were crudely built affairs, in which the subjects required 
by law (reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, history, geogra- 
phy, grammar) and such other subjects as Latin, algebra, chem- 
istry, and physics were taught. 31 

It is difficult to say how many high schools there were before 
the Civil War, but the city high school was steadily increasing 
in importance. Although by Dr. Harris’ standards there were 
only 40 real high schools in the whole country in i860, 32 Bar- 
ney’s Report on the American System listed 80 cities with high 
schools as early as 1851. 33 It is fair to assume that many so- 
called “high-schools” were only advanced elementary schools; 
but, on the other hand, many elementary schools were pushing 
into the higher ranges. 34 No recent educators seem to have had 
much interest in the old curriculum, but Chicago’s high school 
— which may or may not be typical — offered instruction in Latin 
and Greek, astronomy, physiology, natural philosophy, mathe- 
matics, and English literature. 33 

In i860 there were 10a “high schools” in Massachusetts, 161 
in Ohio (Cleveland and Columbus having had high schools as 
early as 1846, Cincinnati, 1847, and Toledo, 1849); 36 an d, ac- 
cording to Inglis, there were 321 high schools by i860, of which 
267 were in the three states of Massachusetts, New York, and 
Ohio. 37 The democratic West was quick to establish high 

3 ° G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 310, 313; Boyd, p. 119. According 
to Long “almost every county town of 1,000 inhabitants has an academy, principally 
for the sons of the rich” (p. 89). 

3 * C. B, Johnson, pp. 102-3; cf. also Joseph S. Schick, “Cultural Beginnings and the 
Rise of the Theater, German and American, in Eastern Iowa, 1836-1863” (unpublished 
Ph.D. dissertation, Department of English, University of Chicago, 1937), p. 117* 

3 2 “Recent Growth of Public High Schools,” Proceedings of the National Education 
Association , 1901, pp. 174-80. 

33 Brown, p. 313. 34 Ibid. 3S Pierce, II, 393. 

3 fi Cubberly, p. 1 62; John Swett, American Public Schools (New York: American 
Book Co., 1900), p. 75. Massachusetts had in 1826 enacted a law that towns having at 
least 500 families should organize an English high school and that towns having at least 
4,000 families should establish a classical high school. This was repealed in 1840, re- 
enacted in 1848 in spite of opposition by private and denominational schools, academies 
and seminaries, colleges, and taxpayers (Swett, p. 74). 

3 ? Kandel, p. 449. 


schools. Wisconsin, between 1849 an d 1 % 59 > established free 
public high schools at Kenosha, Racine, Janesville, Oshkosh, 
Sheboygan, Fond du Lac, and Portage. Evansville, Indiana, 
had its first public high school in 1850, Chicago and San Fran- 
cisco in 1856. Detroit had a high school in 1858 and St. Louis 
in 1853, although the latter seems to have been a private 
school. 38 

“Except in a few conservative communities like Boston, girls 
took their places in the class-rooms devoted to this more ad- 
vanced training,” 39 but “female” high schools and academies 
were still to be found in almost every state of the Union. 40 

Higher education . — The high schools, like the academies, were 
generally intended to prepare students for college. In the dec- 
ade before the Civil War nearly 100 institutions of higher learn- 
ing were founded,; 41 the number of permanent colleges estab- 
lished by 1861 was 182; and the number of all colleges, perma- 
nent and short lived, was well over 200. 42 The geographical dis- 
tribution of the colleges was unwise — most of the new colleges 
were in the South, with its growing distrust of the North and of 
northern schools, and in the West, which despite its sparse pop- 
ulation came to have more colleges than the East. 43 The new 
colleges were most of them denominational, the result of the 

38 Brown, p. 313; Cubberly, p. 16 2; Dexter, p. 147; Swett, p. 75; James Sazama, “A 
History of the Development of Public High Schools in Wisconsin” (unpublished M.A. 
thesis, Department of Education, University of Chicago, 1929). Sarah Gunnels, “A 
History of the Development of High Schools in Missouri” (unpublished M.A. thesis. 
Department of Education, University of Chicago, 1922), p. 43. 

39 A. C. Cole, p. 208. 

40 Thomas Woody, A History of Women s Education in the United States (New York: 
Science Press, 1929), I, 393-95; Kandel, p. 518. 

41 A. C. Cole, p. 209. 

42 Donald G. Tewksbury, The Founding of American Colleges and Universities before 
the Civil War (New York: Teachers 7 College, Columbia University, 1932). 

43 Fite, pp. 236-37; A. C. Cole, p. 209. In i860, 63 of 896 Harvard students were 
from the South, 33 of 521 Yale students, and 113 of 312 Princeton students (Charles F. 
Thwing, A History of Higher Education in America [New York: D. Appleton & Co., 
1906], pp. 254-55). (H be noticed that Thwing’s figure for the total number of Har- 
vard students is considerably greater than that of Fite — perhaps because Fite specifi- 
cally excludes preparatory students.) 



“misguided zeal” of the eastern churches: 44 of the colleges 
founded by i860 only 17 were state schools, and only 2 or 3 
others had state connections. 43 Although the idea of state col- 
leges had taken definite form, the real burden still rested upon 
philanthropy. Practically all the small colleges were poverty 
stricken, carrying on by means of small gifts and subscriptions; 
and few even of the older colleges were well endowed. 46 Nor 
were any of them large. At the beginning of the war Yale had 
521 students. Harvard 443, and Princeton 312. Union had an 
enrolment of 390, Williams of 238, Amherst of 220, Dartmouth 
of 275, Brown of 232; there were 101 students at the University 
of Vermont, 140 at the University of Pennsylvania, and 201 at 
Columbia. Farther west there were 255 students at Michigan, 
60 at Beloit, 63 at Dennison, 48 at Western Reserve, in at 
Notre Dame. 47 

During the first quarter of the nineteenth century the com- 
mon college “branches” had been Latin, Greek, and mathemat- 
ics; philosophy was the dominant study during the senior year. 
Hebrew had been dropped in most colleges; French, Spanish, 
political economy, chemistry, geology, and botany had begun to 
appear. Under George Ticknor, Smith professor at Harvard, 
and the more “progressive” members of the administration stu- 
dents were allowed more latitude in choosing their course of 
study than formerly, but for the most part only in modern lan- 
guages — and even there the small size of the faculty kept them 
from having much choice. The idea of giving students this free- 
dom of choice grew in favor between 1826 and 1846 but during 
the next twenty years encountered faculty opposition. Not un- 
til the year 1869-70 did the principle secure a firm place. 4 ® 

4* Fite, p. 237. 

« Cubberly, p. 270. Between 177 6 and 1865, 238 religious colleges and universities 
were founded, while only 33 state schools had been organized (Jesse Brundage Sears, 
“Philanthropy in the History of American Higher Education” [U.S. Bureau of Educa- 
tion, Department of the Interior, Bull. 26 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 
1922)], p. 36). 

46 Sears, pp. 51-52. 47 Fite, pp. 237-38. 

48 Thwing, pp. 300-316, On Ticknor see also Van Wyck Brooks, The Flowering of 
New England (New York: E. P, Dutton & Co., 1936). 


Teaching methods remained little changed during these years. 
The ancient languages were taught with careful attention to 
grammar and translation into English. Arithmetic had been 
relegated to the academies and high schools, and college teach- 
ing in mathematics was more free to expand. Modern languages 
also had strengthened their position in the curriculum, but the 
sciences in most colleges still were objects either of indifference 
or of contempt. Philosophy was taught as it had been at the 
first of the century, while history was still largely a matter of 
general outlines and of a universal character — most colleges had 
not established chairs, and the subject was taught by the pro- 
fessor of languages or of philosophy. The “social sciences” were 
in most institutions unknown. Library facilities were wholly in- 
adequate — Yale had 25,000 volumes in i860 and Williams 8,000; 
Brown had 10,000 in 1843. Nevertheless, the training given the 
student was rigorous, and his teachers rich in character and de- 
voted to the ideal of aiding the student to secure the great aims 
of a liberal education. Nor was the student diverted by ath- 
letics or by social life; college life was simple and free from dis- 
tractions, and those who were graduated had been trained to 
high ideals, intellectual earnestness, and general efficiency. 49 

The expense for the full four years at Harvard, everything in- 
cluded, was said to be about $1,000 in the middle fifties. 50 The 
Boston Almanac listed as expenses at Harvard $75.00 in college 
fees (tuition, library, and so on), room in dormitory $20.00 
(higher in private houses), textbooks about $12.00; board ranged 
from $2.75 to $4.00 a week. 51 Tuition at Howard College was 
$25.00 for the four-and-a-half-month term, while incidentals 
amounted to $2.00 a term, room and servant hire to $2.00, wash- 
ing to $1.50 a month, and board to $12.00 a month. 52 At the 
University of Alabama (1860-61) tuition was $52.00, room, 
$8.00; laundry, $24.00; fuel and light, $20.00; medical fee, $5.00; 
music fee, $5.00; and servant hire, $4.00; board was estimated 
at $13.00 a month. 53 At Kentucky University, Harrodsburg, 

49 Thwing, pp. 410, 430-3 1 . 

s° Everest, p. 29. 32 Boyd, p. 140. 

31 Boston Almanac , 1859, P* 43* 53 Ibid., p. 151. 


tuition was $30.00 a session; “good board” (including fuel, lights, 
laundry, and other items) ran around $3.00 a week. 54 

Until about i860 the proper place for a young woman to finish 
her education was a “female seminary.” The great day of the 
female seminary was from 1830 to i860, and after i860 the 
founding of seminaries in the North declined rapidly; in the 
South the decline was also marked, but many new ones were 
still chartered. 55 But the young woman of i860 could go on to a 
women’s college — to Mount Holyoke or to Elmira, for instance 
— or to one of the coeducational colleges, which now included 
Oberlin, Antioch, the universities of Iowa and Utah, and the 
normal classes of the university of Wisconsin. 56 There were 
women’s colleges in the North, the South, and the West; by 
i860 there were 61 institutions, of all kinds, where women could 
receive a higher education. 57 

There was a growth also in professional and technical schools: 

In i860, aided by a considerable' endowment from a local donor, Yale 
began to transform its school of applied chemistry into the Sheffield Scientific 
School. Technological and professional education made further headway, 
with the establishment of the Chandler Scientific School at Dartmouth, the 
school of mines at Columbia University and the school of technology at 
Lehigh University. Colleges of pharmacy arose in Cincinnati (1850), Chicago 
(1854) and St. Louis (1864) to supplement those in the East. Dental schools 
were established in Philadelphia and New York, while medical colleges, repre- 
senting one or another of the various systems of healing, came to be available in 
every corner of the nation. Meanwhile law schools more than doubled in 
number, and Columbia and the University of Michigan established more 
thorough courses and inaugurated a more systematic study of law. 58 

The Census reported 46 medical colleges, 20 law schools, 93 the- 
ological seminaries, and 17 scientific colleges. 59 The commission- 

54 Advertisement in Lexington Observer and Reporter , September io, 1859. 

55 Woody, I, 393. 

^Ibid.y II, 131-39, Kandel, p. 518. Vassar College, incorporated in 1861, was still 
in the planning stage. 

57 Woody, II, 147; Cubberly, p. 175. 

58 A. C. Cole, p. 213. Abbott Lawrence gave 150,000 to establish a scientific school 
at Harvard in 1847 and left another $50,000 at his death in 1855 {Hunt's Merchants' 
Magazine , XXXIV [1856], 666). 

59 Eighth Census; Mortality and Miscellaneous , p. 509. 


er of statistics for Ohio reported that in that state alone there 
were 11 theological schools, 10 medical schools, and 1 law 
school. 60 But mere numbers are probably a poor index to this 
trend in education. The schools of medicine and law, most of 
them established for private profit, achieved but little; and the 
theological schools were characterized by a narrow denomina- 
tionalism. 61 It seems to me, too, that the professional writers on 
the history of education tend to exaggerate the degree to which 
formal schooling in law and medicine was taking the place of the 
old system of study under one practicing in the profession. 

Commercial “colleges” were also appearing in the fifties, 
chiefly in the big cities, but some of them in small towns west 
to the Mississippi. 

Adult education . — While people by the thousands were at- 
tending the lyceum in order to increase their knowledge, 62 there 
were some symptoms of what later developed into a general 
movement for adult education. 

There were numerous signs of a demand for a type of adult educa- 
tion adapted to the needs of the plain people. The workers in many com- 
munities had already established mechanics , institutes, which sometimes 
accumulated excellent libraries and offered special vocational training. In 
other instances, like the Albany Manual Labor University, people’s colleges 
or labor colleges had been attempted. In 1857, through the generosity of 
Peter Cooper, the Cooper Union was founded at New York to give practical 
instruction to the working classes. At once hundreds of students came to use 
the reading rooms. Evening schools, successfully inaugurated in New York 
in 1848 by the Public School Society, were rapidly extended under the con- 
trol of the board of education. Boston followed this lead in 1854 first under 
private, then under public, auspices. Not only were the “three R’s” and other 
elementary subjects taught, but the instruction in bookkeeping and archi- 
tectural drawing suggested a timid entry into the field of vocational training. 63 

60 Annual Report for the Year i 86 o y p. 48. 

61 Cf. Sears, p. 5a. There was complaint in the South that the lack of theological 
schools there made it necessary for their ministers to be northerners (cf. T. D. Ozanne, 
The South as It Is [London: Saunders, Otley, & Co., 1863], pp. 194-95). The same feel- 
ing of sectionalism led to the foundation of southern law and medical schools. 

62 See below, pp. 329-32. 

63 A. C. Cole, p. 215; see also Sears, pp. 51-52, for the manual-labor college experi- 



In 1852 Peter Cooper had decided to begin the erection of 
Cooper Union, and with this in mind he had gradually bought 
up an entire block at the intersection of Third and Fourth 
avenues. The cornerstone was laid in 1854; and by Christmas, 
1856, the building was almost complete. It was finally finished 
in 1858, at a cost of $>63 0,000 for the building, and another $30,- 
000 for equipment and beginning instruction. The main objects 
of the school were: (1) free night courses in applied science, in 
social and political science, and in other branches of knowledge, 

(2) a free reading-room, art galleries, and scientific collections, 

(3) a school for instructing women in design and other useful 
arts, (4) a thorough polytechnic school, (5) the maintenance of 
rooms for a society to be called “The Associates of the Cooper 
Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.” Of these ob- 
jects, only the last was not achieved. At first the Union gave a 
three-year, later a five-year, night course in technology. By the 
beginning of its second year it had 1,167 students; in 1864 nearly 
i,5oo. 64 

During the Civil War there were 20,000 pupils in New York 
City’s night schools, 8,000 in those of Philadelphia, and 1,500 in 
those of St. Louis. 65 

Negro education . — It is impossible to feel very certain about 
the status of Negro education before the Civil War. Conditions 
differed widely between free states and slave states, and even 
among the slave states themselves. Some slave states had laws 
against teaching the slaves but did not enforce them, while 
others without such laws did nothing to encourage teaching the 
Negroes. During the thirties widespread fear of Negro uprisings 
had led to the prohibition either of the education of slaves or of 
their assembly in Mississippi, Delaware, Florida, Alabama, and 
the Carolinas; Georgia had already had such laws. The western 
states were not so severe — Missouri did not legislate against 

6 * Nevins, Abram S. Hewitt , pp. 1 1 5-80; see also “The Cooper Union for the Ad- 
vancement of Science and Art,” Harper's Weekly , V (March 30, 1861), 200. 

The Cooper Union remained unique, although Boston’s Lowell Lectures (below, 
p. 330, n. 1 1 5) did provide something of the same opportunities there. 

65 Fite, p. 250. Philadelphia’s night school for male adults had been authorized in 
1846 (Allinson and Penrose, p. 227). 


schools for Negroes until 1847, and Tennessee, Kentucky, and 
Maryland never actually forbade them. 66 

There is abundant evidence that even in the states which pro- 
hibited by law the education of Negroes many masters privately 
disregarded the law. 67 There was some teaching of slaves as a 
reward or for their use in business. Others of them picked up 
reading and writing here and there — from other slaves, from 
white children, from secret teachers, or even in schools; some 
managed to educate themselves. Many white men were inter- 
ested, and sometimes the masters themselves taught their 
slaves; in some places there were even colored schools in de- 
fiance of the law. 68 Stirling reported that in Richmond almost 
every slave child was learning to read and that even in Colum- 
bia there were hundreds who could read, twenty or thirty regu- 
larly teaching reading in the evenings to their fellow slaves for 
a few dollars a month. Others were taught to read by friendly 
whites, and on the plantations slaves taught one another. 69 Ac- 
cording to Olmsted, in Virginia the Negrpes had the Bible read 
to them a great deal; legally they were not allowed to have meet- 
ings without a white man present, but frequently they did any- 
way. 70 On the Mississippi plantation on which Mrs. Smedes 
lived as a girl the sons of the white family taught the few planta- 
tion Negroes who wanted to learn. On this plantation five 
slaves became preachers. 71 

Still, when all allowances have been made for such cases, 
most of the slaves must, like Booker T. Washington, 72 have re- 
ceived no education at all. North Carolina’s law of 1830 forbade 
not only teaching the slaves but even giving or selling them 

66 C. G. Woodson, The Education of the Negro Prior to i 86 r (New York: G. P. Put- 
nam’s Sons, 1915), pp. 165-69. 

67 E.g., Nehemiah Adams, pp. 56-57; Burke, pp. 85-86. 

68 Woodson, pp. 205-20. 

Stirling, p. 2 96. A small planter of South Carolina told Gilmore of his having been 
taught to read by an old Negro slave (Gilmore, pp. 246-47) — a curious reversal of the 
more usual circumstances. 

70 Seaboard Slave States , pp. 106-7. 

71 Smedes, p. 43. 

73 Up from Slavery , pp. 6-7. 



books or pamphlets. 75 Only three states, as before mentioned, 
did not actually forbid the education of slaves, and even these 
made no public provision for their education. 74 The difficulties 
confronting a slave trying to educate himself in one of them, 
Maryland, are illustrated by the case of Frederick Douglass. 
After he had learned to read, partly through the help of a mis- 
tress despite the master’s disapproval, partly through his own 
efforts, he tried to start a school to teach Negroes on Sunday. 
This was broken up, but he started another, which met secret- 
ly. 75 In some parts of Maryland there was such opposition to 
Negro education that even freed Negroes had small opportunity 
to learn to read and write. 76 There may have been local excep- 
tions, but in all the southern states the great masses of the slaves 
were kept illiterate. There were some plantations with hundreds 
of slaves, none of them with the merest rudiments of education. 
In large areas it seems to have been difficult to find a Negro who 
could even write his own name. 77 

In the North each state had its own way of meeting — or 
avoiding — the problem. In New York, New Jersey, and Penn- 
sylvania (except Pittsburgh, where Negroes were numerous) 
Negroes and whites went to the same schools. Rhode Island, 
Connecticut, and Massachusetts provided separate schools for 
Negroes, and in the other New England states there were sepa- 
rate schools where the Negro population was large. Ohio 
had separate schools; Indiana had only private and mission 
schools for Negroes; and in Illinois it varied with the commu- 
nity. Negroes had equal rights in Michigan, Wisconsin, and 
Iowa. In some northern states there were even schools for the 
higher education of Negroes. 78 Even where there was nominally 

3 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 543. 

74 McDougle, Journal of Negro History , p. 79. 

75 Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass (‘‘American Crisis Biographies’’ [Phil- 
adelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1906]), pp. 24-25; Douglass, pp, 145-47, J 7L i 99~ 
200, 264 ff. 

7 6 Levi J. Coppin wrote that, although both his parents were free, his mother had to 
teach him to read clandestinely (pp. 11-12, 18-19, 69-72). 

77 Woodson, p. 171. 78 Woodson, chap, xi and pp. 244, 308-35. 


education for Negroes it is difficult to know whether Negroes 
actually received equal treatment. Illinois, for instance, pro- 
vided in 1855 that townships should spend as much on Negro 
education as Negroes paid in school taxes; and Ohio provided 
that, if the public schools did not admit Negroes, special schools 
should be built. 79 In Philadelphia, while there were 2,321 Ne- 
groes in school (1,031 in public schools, 748 in charity schools, 
21 1 in benevolent and reform schools, and 331 in private 
schools) there were 1,621 Negro children between the ages of 
eight and eighteen not in school. Two night schools had an at- 
tendance of 150 or more. 80 Judging by the Census reports freed 
Negroes in the North had only about half the opportunity to re- 
ceive an education that white people had, although there was 
great variation among the different states; while in the South it 
was next to impossible even for a freed Negro to go to school, 
and it was nearly as difficult for him in the West (see Appen. G, 
Table 59). 


The American newspaper . — The relative simplicity of using 
statistical measurements should not blind us to the fact that 
education is successful only in so far as it enriches a person's — 
or a nation’s — life. In i860 it would have been possible to con- 
vince only a very few Americans that there was anything wrong 
with the accepted aims for education or that the defects in the 
means were more than quantitative. Perhaps the biggest reason 
for believing that the educational ideals were well on the way 
toward realization was that the American people had become — 
as no other people had yet become — a 4 'reading” people. They 
read books (purchasing them or borrowing them from libraries), 
they read magazines, but above all they read newspapers. The 
newspaper was an “institution.” Visitors from abroad were 
astonished at the number of papers and at the importance at- 
tached to them. They were amazed to find that every town of 
20,000 inhabitants, and many smaller, had one or two dailies, 
that every village had its newspaper, and even the frontier set- 

7 ? Farnum, p. m. 

80 DuBois, pp. 86-87. 



dements their weekly sheets, that every family subscribed to a 
paper, even rural families taking the local if not a metropolitan 
paper. 81 They reported that the popularity of the newspaper 
and its importance to the Americans were a notable character- 
istic of American life and that the newspaper was the “most 
serious of daily considerations.” If these books were read and 
believed back home, there must have come to be a general im- 
pression that as soon as an American arose in the morning his 
absorption in his newspaper was shared only by his attention to 
breakfast. 82 

That the newspaper had become so characteristic a feature of 
American life was not alone owing to mass education; improve- 
ments in printing processes had much to do with the growth of 
the big metropolitan papers and their large circulations of low- 
priced publications. Stereotyping and printing from plates on 
rotary presses were commonplace, although not until the sixties 
did the web press, in which the paper was fed from a roll and 
cut by the press itself, come into use. By modern standards, it 
should be pointed out, the circulation of the papers of the fifties 
was still small and their readers few — only 64 persons of every 
1,000 ten years of age and over subscribed to any sort of news- 
paper, and even in New York City the per capita circulation 
was only about a quarter of what it was in 190.9 (see Table 9). 83 

81 As it seemed to them. Actually few people in the rural regions can have seen a 
metropolitan paper very often, 

82 Baxter, p. 82; Bunn, p. 6a; Chambers, pp. 203-4; Mackay, p. 292. They were less 
enthusiastic about the quality of the newspapers, which to their eyes were undignified, 
sensational, and nationalistic, with a loose tone of morality, an intolerant attitude, and 
an extremely low quality of editorial writing; moreover, the papers were poorly printed 
and were more than half advertising, much of it by quack practitioners and others of 
dubious ethics (cf. Baxter, p. 82; Burns, pp. 32, 66—68 ; Isabella Bishop, pp. 421-24; 
Dicey, I, 27 ff.; Mackay, pp. 291 ff., esp. p. 324; and Trollope, pp. 573 ff.). What Thom- 
as Low Nichols had to say (I, chap, xxvi) about American papers was very similar. 

83 In its summaries of periodicals published in the United States the Eighth Census 
did not attempt to distinguish between “newspapers” and “magazines.” It is question- 
able whether any clear-cut line of distinction could have been drawn: the newspapers of 
the day made no effort to limit their content to an impersonal and unbiased presentation 
of news, and the magazines were likely to concern themselves with day-to-day events. 
Four-fifths of the periodicals were classed as “political,” the rest being “literary,” “re- 
ligious,” or “miscellaneous”; more than three-fourths of them were weeklies. About 70 
per cent of the periodicals were published in the North (80 per cent, measured by num- 


Of New York's four largest dailies the Herald , the Tribune , 
and the Times sold for two cents, the Sun for one cent. In make- 
up and appearance they were a far cry from today’s newspapers. 
Usually they were of about twelve pages, the sheets slightly 
smaller than at present. News which today would be played up 
on the front page was then to be found well inside — Lincoln’s 
nomination might be reported on page 7 — while the front page 
was taken up by advertisements, frequently classified ads of 
closely packed small type. In neither advertisements nor text 

TABLE 9 * 

Newspaper Coverage 
i860 and 1929 



Average total daily circulation, all dailies 


42, 947, 8 24 f 

Average circulation per issue 

Number of subscribers to all newspapers, per hundred 



of population ten years of age and over 



Circulation in New York City (present limits) 



Population of New York City (present limits) 




* Source: Alfred McClung Lee, The Daily Newspaper in America (New York: Macmillan Co., 1937), 
pp. 718-3 1 ; see also the figures given in W. A. £>ill. The Growth of Newspapers in the United States (Lawrence, 
Kan.: University of Kansas Press, 1928), pp. ir-30. 

t Sunday excluded. Average total Sunday circulation, 29,011,648. 
t Sunday excluded. Average Sunday circulation per issue, 50*193- 

were there illustrations; and, indeed, the advertisements, being 
small and completely filled with printed matter, were quite dif- 
ferent from what they later became. The large papers had unit- 
ed their telegraphic services to form the Associated Press in the 
late forties; but there was no ocean cable functioning, and for- 
eign news came only with ship arrivals (it was printed as a 
series of short paragraphs in a single column, headed by some 

bers of copies), and reduction of the publishing activity to a per capita basis leaves the 
North still far in the lead. Even the West, largely because of the amount of publishing 
done in California, exceeded the South in number of copies per capita. (It is to be re- 
membered, however, that almost all the copies of the southern periodicals were pur- 
chased and read in the South, while the publications of the Northeast had a nation-wide 
circulation. Sectional differences in consumption would be slighly different from the dif- 
ferences in production.) See Eighth Census > Mortality and Miscellaneous , pp. 320-322. 



such caption as “The Latest from Europe” or “Twelve Days 
from Europe”). News writing was colorless, and the vigor of 
the papers depended upon their editorial writing. Greeley of the 
Tribune and Bennett of the Herald outdid each other in their ap- 
peal to the masses, while John Vance of the Sun and Henry Ray- 
mond of the Times were a little more conservative; William Cul- 
len Bryant and John Bigelow made the Post one of the country’s 
best (as distinguished from largest) papers, and J. Watson Webb 
edited the less-known Courier and Enquirer.** 

In the absence of any check on claimed circulations, the 
boasts of the rival editors probably need to be taken with a little 
caution. The Herald, in December, i860, put its weekday cir- 
culation average at 77,107 and its Sunday circulation at 82,656. 
This, it boasted, was the largest in the world — 25,000 over the 
London Times. About half the circulation was in the city and 
suburbs. On January 2, i860, the Tribune claimed a daily cir- 
culation of 39,000, a semi-weekly of 22,500, a Weekly Tribune of 
181,000, and a California edition of 4,500 — a total of 247,000. 
OnApril 10, 1861, it boasted a daily circulation of 55,000 and an 
enormous weekly circulation, bringing the total to 287,750 buy- 
ers. 85 The Sun had a daily circulation of 59,000 (45,000 on Man- 
hattan Island), the Times about 35,000, the Evening Post was 
approaching 20,000. There was a vigorous competition in sales. 

84 The best source of information is, of course, files of the papers themselves. For 
general discussion see Willard Grosvenor Bleyer, Main Currents in the History of Ameri- 
can Journalism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1927) ; W. A. Dill, Growth of Newspapers 
in the United States (Lawrence, Kan.: University of Kansas, 1928); Frederic Hudson, 
Journalism in the United States from 1690 to 1872 (New York: Harper & Bros., 1872); 
and Alfred McClung Lee, The Daily Newspaper in America. 

I have not yet seen Frank Luther Mott’s American Journalism: A History of Newspa- 
pers in the U nited States through 250 Years , 1690-1940 (N ew York: Macmillan Co. ,1941); 
but if it is as good as his A History of American Magazines it is well worth reading. See 
also Elmer Davis, History of the New York Times , 1851-1929 (New York: New York 
Times, 1921); Frank M. O’Brien, The Story of the Sun (new ed.; New York: D. Appleton 
■ & Co., 1928); and Allan Nevins, The Evening Post (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1922). 

85 Of these papers two- thirds remained in New York state, 26,091 went to Pennsyl- 
vania, 24,900 to Ohio, 16,477 to Illinois, 11,968 to Iowa, 11,081 to Indiana, and 5,535 
to California; only a handful went to the South — 21 to Mississippi, 23 to South Caro- 
lina, 35 to Georgia, 10 to Florida, as compared, for instance, with 10,589 to Maine. 
Emerson wrote to Carlyle, of American farmers: “Horace Greeley does their thinking 
for them at a dollar a head.” 


and newsboys were supplemented by vendors in hotels, railway 
stations, and other likely locations; cities as far away as St. 
Louis, New Orleans, Mobile, and Galveston were regularly sup- 
plied with bundles of New York dailies. 

Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities of the Northeast had 
dailies with large local circulations, but only the New York pa- 
pers had large mail editions. Papers in the smaller cities (Sam- 
uel Bowles’s Springfield Republican was an exception) were of 
local importance only. There were a few noteworthy papers in 
the West, such as Joseph Medill’s Chicago Tribune and Murat 
Halstead’s Cincinnati Commercial and the Cleveland Leader. In 
the more sparsely settled regions of the West, however, the typi- 
cal paper was a county paper (daily, semi-weekly, or weekly), 
with a circulation of from 500 to 2,000. This paper, costing 
$1.50 or $ 2.00 a year, would probably be four pages folio, the 
first page made up mostly of advertising, and the other pages 
containing news, fiction, poetry, political editorials, agricultural 
information, and local items. 86 In any large community there 
was sure to be someone who subscribed to some metropolitan 
paper — probably Greeley’s Tribune , though the St. Louis papers 
had quite a wide circulation in the Mississippi Valley. 87 

Southern papers were smaller, with a sectional or local appeal 
only; a few, such as the Richmond Enquirer, the Charleston News 
and Courier , and the New Orleans Picayune , were well edited; 
and the New Orleans papers, which were sent up the Mississippi 
in steamboats, had circulations of respectable proportions. In 
North Carolina the usual paper was a four-page sheet (the first 
regular eight-page paper was the Greensboro Times, with forty 
columns, in 1859), and there was a tendency to confine adver- 
tisements to the first, third, and fourth pages. 88 In Alabama the 
dailies were usually S5.00 a year, the weeklies $2.00 (in advance) 
or $3.00 (deferred). Advertising took up about as large a pro- 
portion of the space as it does now, and there were few wood- 

86 Nichols, I, 321. 

87 Cf. C. B. Johnson, pp. 119-20. 

88 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , p. 779. 



cuts. 89 The biggest Texas papers were four pages in size, tri- 
weekly or weekly, getting their news by way of New Orleans. 90 

Denver had three dailies in i860, selling at 50 cents a week 
(the latest eastern papers, ten days old, sold for 20 cents each, 
and 10,000 were imported weekly), and there were papers in 
other Colorado towns. There were newspapers in Salt Lake 
City, a number of dailies and weeklies in San Francisco, and 
several papers in Oregon; there was none in the state of Wash- 
ington until 1 86 1. 91 

Magazines . — The Census of i860 reported a total of 3,383 
weeklies, monthlies, and quarterlies, of which 2,694 were “po- 
litical weeklies” and 171 “religious weeklies.” Frank Luther 
Mott thinks it fair to suppose that practically all the political 
and some two-thirds of the religious weeklies were newspapers. 92 
This leaves 575 periodicals published in i860 which can 
properly be called magazines. The average circulation of the 
quarterlies was about 3,370 copies, monthlies about 12,000, and 
weeklies (including newspapers) about 2,400. About a third of 
the periodical circulation of the country was in New York State, 
which received three times as many magazines as Pennsylvania, 
the second highest. But the sectionalism of the periodicals of 
the period was notable, and few had a really wide circulation. 93 

89 Boyd, p. 208. 

90 See Sam Acheson, 35P00 Days in Texas (New York: Macmillan Co., 1938). 

91 D. W. Working* “Some Forgotten Pioneer Newspapers/’ Colorado Magazine, 
IV (1927), 93-100; Hafen, pp. 120-21 ; Richardson, p. 297; Villard, Past and Present, 
p. 28; L. E. Young, p. 351; Bancroft, California , VI, 785-86; Fuller, pp. 288-89. 

n A History of American Magazines (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938), 
II, 3 n. The appearance of this volume at once provides a convenient source of informa- 
tion about the magazines and makes extensive comment unnecessary. I am so much 
indebted to Mott that I have not troubled to make specific footnote references in all 

A more general account — and one giving no quantitative data — is Algernon Tassin, 
The Magazine in America (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1916). There is also much 
useful information in Irving Garwood, “American Periodicals from 1850 to i860” (un- 
published Ph.D. dissertation, Department of English, University of Chicago, 1922). 

93 The most common subscription price was $3. 00 a year; the weekly religious and 
literary magazines were $2.00, and $2.00 monthlies were not uncommon — some were 
only $1.00 or I1.50. Such magazines as the North American Review , De Bow’s Review , the 
Southern Quarterly Review , and the Journal of Science were $5.00. Clubs of five or fifteen 


It must be admitted that literary quality was no more a guar- 
anty of large circulation in i860 than it is now. The scholarly 
quarterlies and the best of the monthlies fared badly compared 
with the magazines which made no pretense about their popular 
appeal. Largest of them all, rumored to sell 400,000 copies 
weekly, was Robert Bonner’s New York Ledger — a folio of eight 
five-column pages, with one woodcut an issue, selling for $2.00 a 
year, or 4 cents an issue. While it did print contributions by 
Edward Everett, Greeley, Beecher, Bryant, Longfellow, Ban- 
croft, Mrs. Stowe, Dickens, and Tennyson, its popularity de- 
pended on serials by such writers as Sylvanus Cobb, Jr., and 
Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth. The Country Gentleman , a six- 
teen-page quarto, with departments for farm, garden, and fire- 
side, in 1858 reached a circulation of 250,000 copies at a price of 
$2.00 a year. Other popular weeklies (most of them Sunday 
papers, though not Sunday editions of the dailies) included the 
New York Sunday Mercury (a story paper), with a circulation of 
145,000 before the war, the Flag of Our Union , which attained a 
circulation of 100,000, and numerous others. 

Of greater interest today are the illustrated weeklies, particu- 
larly Harper s Weekly (circulation 120,000 by the end of 1861) 
and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (164,000 in i860). 
Harper s Weekly , founded in 1857, capitalized on the popularity 
of the older monthly. It printed pictures, politics, essays, and 
fiction (including serials by Dickens and others), but with an 
increasing number of pictures and more politics than the month- 
ly. Leslie's started in 1855, and from 1857 on sold at 6 cents a 
copy, $2.00 a year. Its contents were highly miscellaneous, run- 
ning to large and striking illustrations. There were departments 
for music, drama, fine arts, the turf, sports, army life, book re- 
views, serial fiction (Reade, Dickens, and Miss Mulock, among 
others), and fashions. Sensational news events were featured 
from the beginning; but by the later fifties travel articles, city 
features, and sports were being played up more prominently. 
Its campaign against swill milk deserves part, perhaps all, of the 

subscriptions received lower rates: Godey’s was $i .65 instead of $3.00, others were $ 1 .00 
instead of $2.00. Premiums had not yet become common (Mott, II, 10-13 and chap. x). 



credit for the state law of 1861 making swill milk illegal. There 
were other illustrated weeklies, some more sensational, but only 
Gleason's Pictorial , claiming 103,000 in 1856, had a circulation 
greater than 100,000. 

Of the monthly magazines only Harper’s New Monthly Maga- 
zine , which began publication in 1850, achieved the 100,000 
mark in circulation. It was established, apparently, to present 
in periodical form the wealth of contemporary English litera- 
ture, in combination with house advertising. It contained 
stories, biographical essays, travel essays, popular articles on 
science, and serials; during its earlier years it pirated the popu- 
lar British authors. Dickens, Thackeray, Bulwer, George Eliot, 
Trollope, Mrs. Craig, and others were represented in the first 
years, though there came to be a growing proportion of Ameri- 
can authors. The departments were largely American and were 
among the most popular features of the magazine — the “Edi- 
tor’s Drawer,” the “Editor’s Easy Chair,” and the “Editor’s 
Table.” In the later fifties Harper’s was printing about fifty 
woodcuts a month and until 1865 two fashion pages a month. 
After the middle fifties most of the short stories were American, 
most of them “sentimental balderdash.” But the circulation 
reached 200,000 before the war. 94 In contrast, Putnam’ s, which 
had “a real literary flavor,” lasted only from 1853 to 1857, and 

even the Atlantic Monthly (1857 ), with a list of contributors 

which included Holmes, Lowell, Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson, 
Motley, Norton, Trowbridge, Mrs. Stowe, Godwin, Higginson, 
Hale, Adrichman, Stedman, and Stoddard, had by 1863 
achieved a circulation of only 32,000. And the Dial, despite its 
high standard of literary excellence, lasted only through its first 
year, i860. 

Godey’s Lady’s Book had a circulation of 150,000 by the war, 
and Godey himself estimated that he had 1,000,000 readers in 
i86o. 9S Peterson’s, like Godey’s , was a combination of fashions 
and literature. Its fashion plates never quite came up to the 

94 Trollope found “Harper's everlasting magazine” in the humblest cabins of the rude 
western country (p. 144). 

9 s Finley, pp. 47, 177-78. 


hand-colored plates of Godeys , but its cheaper price (it sold for 
$2.00 to Godey's $3.00, and was only $1 .25 in clubs of eight) gave 
it an edge: it probably reached the 150,000 mark sometime in 
the early sixties. Other women's magazines, some of them pub- 
lished under religious auspices, were far below these two in cir- 
culation. None of the “home” magazines could boast a large 
circulation, and of the “juveniles” only the Youth's Penny Ga- 
zette had by i860 reached 100,000, though the Youth's Compan- 
ion — -a $i.oo-a-year weekly with numerous departments (reli- 
gion, biography, natural history, highly moral fiction, and 
others), continued publication until recent years and is better re- 

This was a great day for religious papers, but apart from 
the American Tract Society's American Messenger (190,000 by 
1850) no one of them attained a circulation comparable to those 
of the magazines previously mentioned. The Independent , an 
eight-page weekly folio, was much more than a religious paper: 
it took a positive stand on moral and political questions, and the 
caliber of its contributors — Henry Ward Beecher, Theodore 
Tilton, Mrs. Stowe — made it universally respected. Its circula- 
tion reached 25,000 by 1856 and over 35,000 by the beginning of 
the war. 96 There were a few good humorous magazines, notably 
Diogenes Hys Lanterne and Vanity Fair , but none of them 
lived long. 

There were several periodicals devoted to scientific and medi- 
cal subjects, to engineering, and to railroading (the Scientific 
American is especially interesting to the historian), and a few 
trade papers, most of them legal, financial, or commercial. The 
place vacated by the Niles Register (1811-49) had been more or 
less filled by Hunt's Merchants' Magazine (1 839-70) — a monthly 
publication filled with statistical compilations, items relating to 
commerce, manufacturing, and trade and longer articles on 
business subjects. De Bow's Review (1846-70) was the only pa- 
per published with a purely sectional appeal which ever achieved 

A. C. Cole (p. 226) puts its circulation at nearly 100,000 in 1860, as did 
Burns (p. 34). Possibly they were thinking in terms of numbers of readers rather than 
numbers of copies. 



an imposing circulation or reputation. It was filled with useful 
information about southern (and western) commerce and re- 
sources, modeled on Hunt’s but never so copious. The farmer 
had a wide choice of magazines, some of sectional interest, some 
only statewide. The American Agriculturist led in circulation 
(45,000 just before the war), but the Prairie Farmer was popu- 
lar in the West, the Southern Cultivator in the South. The farm 
papers had, besides the pages devoted to farming and farm prob- 
lems, departments for fiction, children’s features, religious and 
moral topics, and other material. 

Books . — If we are content to use as a measure the number of 
newspapers and story papers read, then certainly the American 
experiment in mass education was proving a success. What if we 
regard the reading of books as a better criterion ? Our usual in- 
formants, the travelers from abroad, seem to have regarded the 
American’s addiction to his newspaper — in their eyes a cheaply 
sensational rag — as one more characteristic that would make 
good reading back home. But they, were neither cynical nor 
superior about the American as a reader of books. William 
Chambers, as a publisher himself, was deeply impressed by 
what a Boston publisher told him : 

Everybody reads and everybody buys books. Every mechanic worth 
anything at all, in Massachusetts, must have a small library which he calls 
his own; besides, the taste for high-class books is perceptibly improving. A 
few years ago, we sold great quantities of trashy Annuals; now, our opulent 
classes prefer works of a superior quality . 97 

It was with specific reference to the Bostonians that Alfred 
Bunn wrote: 

They are a reading public: from the daily literature on a newsvender's 
counter, to the thoughtful volumes of the scholar's study, nothing escapes 
their attention; and to such a pitch in this determination to acquire knowledge 
carried, that the coachman who drives you to hear a lecture will pay his 

money to go in and attend its delivery In [New England] there is 

scarcely a village that has not some institute for the delivery of lectures, the 
formation of a library, and the study of various acquirements; while in all 

97 Chambers, p. 219. What the unnamed publisher told Chambers about Annuals 
was quite correct: the taste for these “gift books’' — miscellanies of reprinted material, 
usually rather trashy, always ornately bound — seems to have disappeared during the 
fifties never to return. 


their cities and large towns there are at least two and sometimes three. (We 
have been told that there are upwards of three hundred in the six States .) 98 

But it was not only New Englanders who read books; Count 
Agenor de Gasperin was amazed at the reading habits of an ele- 
ment of the population far removed from the literary atmos- 
phere of Boston : 

People read enormously in America. There is a library in the meanest 
cabin of roughly-hewn logs, constructed by the pioneer of the West. These 
poor log-houses almost always contain a Bible, often journals, instructive 
books, sometimes even poetry." 

If it is true that the Americans were great readers, this fact is 
of real significance, and I cannot resist the temptation to quote 
once more, this time from Anthony Trollope. Trollope, as an 
English author eager to secure American protection for British 
copyrights, paid particular heed to American reading habits. 
In his book, published in 1862, he wrote: 

As consumers of literature, they are certainly the most conspicuous people 
on the earth. Where an English publisher contents himself with thousands 
of copies an American publisher deals with ten thousands. The sale of a new 
book, which in numbers would amount to a considerable success with us, 
would with them be a lamentable failure 

The disposal of ten thousand copies of a work is no large sale in America 
of a book published at a dollar. 

I do not remember that I ever examined the rooms of an American without 
finding books or magazines in them. I do not speak here of the houses of my 
friends, as of course the same remark would apply as strongly in England, 
but of the houses of persons presumed to earn their bread by the labour of their 
hands. The opportunity for such examination does not come daily; but when 
it has been in my power I have made it, and have always found signs of edu- 
cation. Men and women of the classes to which I allude talk of reading and 
writing as of arts belonging to them as a matter of course, quite as much as are 
the arts of eating and drinking. A porter or a farmer's servant in the States 
is not proud of reading and writing. It is to him quite a matter of course. The 
coachmen on their boxes and the boots as they sit in the halls of the hotels, 
have newspapers constantly in their hands. The young women have them 
also, and the children. The fact comes home to one at every hour, that the 
people are an educated people . 100 

98 Pp. 11 and 29. 

99 The Uprising of a Great People , trans. Mary L. Booth (New York: Charles Scrib- 
ner, 1861), pp. 60-61. 

io° pp. 271 and 566. 



Now, eighty years later, what can we say about the impor- 
tance of books in the lives of the people of i860? First, we can 
say that these people were doing more reading than were the 
people of any other country and more than Americans them- 
selves had ever done before. The purchase of books was stimu- 
lated by improvements in the technique of printing, the most 
notable of which was the invention of electrotyping around 
1850, making possible larger editions at lower unit costs. The 
output of American publishing houses, measured in dollars, 
tripled between 1850 and i860. The output of books alone in- 
creased by 50 per cent during the first half of the decade, and an 
American publisher estimated that in 1856 the American people 
purchased $ 16,000,000 worth of books published in this country 
and $1,000,000 worth of imported books. A single New York 
publisher was turning out 3,000,000 books a year. 101 

Quantitative estimates of the relative number of books pur- 
chased by the different income classes or by different parts of 
the country are, of course, impossible. 102 We can be sure that 
more books were bought and read in the settled East than in the 
West, more in the big cities than in the rural communities. The 
big bookstores in the eastern cities served both as commercial 
enterprises and as gathering places for cultured customers and 
men of letters. 103 But, even as far west as Iowa and Missouri, 
towns large enough to be on the map usually had at least one, 
frequently several, bookshops. In the South the aristocratic 
planter prided himself on his education in the classics and on his 

101 Eighth Census: Manufactures, pp. cxxxiii, clxii; John W. Harper, “American Pub- 
lishing," One Hundred Years of American Commerce, I, 310; S. G. Goodrich, Recollec- 
tions of a Lifetime (New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1856), II, 387. 

103 Some tentative conclusions may be drawn from the census of occupations in i860. 
In the sixteen northern states, 1,475 persons reported their occupations as “booksellers 
and stationers''; in the thirteen southern states and the District of Columbia there were 
only 295; and in the twelve western states and territories only 91 ( Eighth Census : Popu- 
lation y pp. 658-59). 

103 Boston's Old Corner Bookstore was a meeting place for such men as Bronson Ah 
cott. Dr. Howe, George Ticknor, Edward Everett, Parke Benjamin, John Lothrop Mot- 
ley, and Oliver Wendell Holmes (Hildegarde Hawthorne, p. 103). Emerson was another 
literary figure who liked to meet his friends at Boston bookstores (Van Wyck Brooks, 
The Life of Emerson [New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1932], pp. 96-97). 


literary taste. His library was likely to be one of which an Eng- 
lish gentleman might have been proud, although American au- 
thors were seldom represented. Apart from the planters, the 
people of the South were not great readers; there were few book- 
shops in the cities and few books in the homes. On the Frontier, 
while the Yankee book-peddler might sell a few sets of stand- 
ard works, the home library was usually limited to the Bible, an 
almanac, and perhaps a few religious books and an occasional 
history or biography. 

Our first point, then, is clear: the Americans, compared with 
earlier Americans or with their contemporaries abroad, were 
great readers. What more can we say? We need to make two 
very important qualifications: first, even quantitatively the rec- 
ord was not as impressive as it at first seems: the output of 
books of all kinds, including schoolbooks, can hardly have been 
more than a dollar’s worth for each adult a year and, second, 
the books they read were for the most part not worth reading. 

It is true that this was one of the great periods of American 
literature. 104 Books of lasting importance were being published 
in the fifties — by Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Holmes, 
by Longfellow and Whittier, Parkman, Prescott, and Motley, 
by Whitman and Melville and (one should probably add) by 
Harriet Beecher Stowe. But none of these except Mrs. Stowe 
can be said to have been a best seller. The “standard” poets 
were widely read, but their poetry rarely achieved greatness. 
Though people flocked to hear Emerson lecture, as a critic he 
was almost unknown. Thoreau, who with Emerson really had 
the most to say to the people of his time (and ours) was heard 
by only a few. Melville and Whitman were virtually ignored. 
It is difficult to assess this period. Superficially, it resembles 
those great periods of imagination and creativeness when the 
great, the near-great, and the common people all react upon one 
another, pushing forward toward a real “renaissance.” This 
time there was no renaissance. Perhaps people were too pre- 

I0 4 See, e.g., Brooks, The Flowering of New England; or F. O. Matthiessen, American 
Renaissance (New York: Oxford Press, 1941). The relevant chapters of Parrington are 
still very much worth reading. 


occupied with “getting and spending.” The roots never reached 
down into the common people, and instead of a real growth of 
culture there was only a brief flowering. The period produced a 
large number of poems and essays which still find their way into 
schoolbooks, it produced a few works of beauty and power, but 
it produced nothing (again excepting Uncle Tom’s Cabin) which 
entered into the lives of the people. 

What were the people reading during the fifties? Many of 
them were reading Dickens’ novels, which were widely pirated 
and more widely read; Scott also had many American readers. 105 
Some were reading such American authors as William Dean 
Howells, Richard Henry Stoddard, Donald Grant Mitchell, 
Paul Hamilton Hayne, Henry Timrod, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 
Edmund Clarence Stedman. There were a few women in the 
best-seller list — Susan Warner, Sarah Willis Parton (“Fanny 
Fern”), Catherine Lee Hentz, “Fanny Forrester,” Emma D. 
E. N. Southworth, Anna B. Warner — and others — Alice and 
Phoebe Cary, Sarah J. C. Lippincott, Julia Ward Howe, Louise 
Chandler Moulton, Louisa M. Alcott, Margaret Fuller Ossoli, 
Lucy Larcom — -just outside it. But what was really to the popu- 
lar taste were Sylvanus Cobb’s serials and the works of Peter 
Parley and John S. C. Abbott, which sold by the millions. The 
doings and sayings of Samuel Slick, Jack Downing, Q. K. Phi- 
lander Doesticks, and Mrs. Partington were widely read. The 
year i860 saw the beginnings of a new literary form — Beadle’s 
dime novels and dime biographies. Within four years 5,000,000 
of these paper-backed volumes had been put into circulation. 106 

105 The lack of an international copyright convention and of any working agreement 
among the publishers on the two sides of the Atlantic made pirating common. Popular 
British books were immediately published at low prices in the United States or pub- 
lished serially. Thomas Low Nichols ventured the estimate (I, 340) that three-fourths 
of the books printed in the United States were reprints of English books. This guess 
seems outrageously high (S. G. Goodrich estimated [II, 388-89] that, in 1856, 80 per 
cent of the books published in this country were by American authors, having increased 
from only 30 per cent in 1820; schoolbooks probably made up 30 or 40 per cent of the 
total), but the persistent complaints of British authors and the caustic comments of 
British travelers leave no doubt as to the prevalence of pirating. 

106 A. C. Cole, p. 225; see also Edmund Pearson, Dime Novels (Boston: Little, Brown 
& Co., 1929). 


When one substitutes for the literary histories a glanc-e through 
the contemporary magazines with the largest circulations and 
another glance at the best-selling books of the time, one realizes 
that, for the greater part of the reading public, reading was only 
an escape, a time killer. For this the American methods of edu- 
cation may be partly to blame. 107 

Libraries . — I cannot escape the conclusion that here in the 
years just preceding the Civil War was potentially a renais- 
sance which just failed of realization. All over the country there 
were people — -probably very much in the minority numerically 
but enough to be a great leavening force — who were reading and 
talking about books, organizing and attending lyceums, inter- 
esting themselves in literary societies. They believed — believed 
passionately — that knowledge could enrich their lives and make 
their country great. No one could have predicted, in the fifties, 
that all these aspirations were to yield to the frenzied attempt to 
secure happiness through commercialized amusements and 
through greater possession of material goods. 

There were many reasons for expecting a spiritual regenera- 
tion, and one of these was the growth of libraries. It was during 
the fifties that the tax-supported free library definitely estab- 
lished itself, beginning with the Boston City Library and li- 
braries in other Massachusetts cities. Private donors contrib- 
uted generously to these public libraries and to others, especially 
those for the working classes; a few libraries, notably New 
York’s Astor Library, were given in their entirety. In a number 
of cities there were mercantile library associations, established 
by and for apprentices and wage-earners (sometimes aided by 
the wealthy), who were for a nominal fee entitled to the use of 
the library and its reading-rooms. I<>8 The proprietory libraries, 
most of them long established, continued to serve their members 
but declined in relative importance. Smaller cities and towns 

107 Tocqueville thought that it was characteristic of democracies that education 
should result in mediocrity; see also Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy. 

108 The largest and most firmly established of these libraries were those in New York, 
Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and San Francisco; 
but there were others; cf. the article on “Mercantile Library Associations,” Hunt*s Mer- 
chants * Magazine y XXIX (18 53), 437-48. 


continued to depend upon library associations, whose books 
could be used only by members but whose memberships were 
open to all who were willing to pay the fee. 

During the decade, according to Census reports, the number 
of public libraries of the nation increased to over 10,000, while 
the number of volumes increased fivefold, reaching a total of 
nearly 8,000, ooo. 109 The number of completely free, tax-sup- 
ported libraries was still small; and in view of that it is interest- 
ing to see that there were 48,000 common-school and Sunday- 
school libraries, with a total of about 8,000,000 volumes. The 
movement toward school-district and township libraries in the 
rural areas and in the western states was of recent origin, but its 
growth had been rapid. In 1862 there were 1,206,075 volumes 
in the public school libraries of New York State, 110 and there 
were district libraries in Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and perhaps 
other states. 

There are several reports on the number and size of libraries 
at about this time, but all incomplete. I have included in Ap- 
pendix G (Tables 46-49) such quantitative data as seem most 
revealing, but it is to be remembered that if the reports had 
been complete the totals would have been larger — probably 
much larger. 111 Sectional differences are conspicuous. The North 
was far ahead of the South, not only in the number of libraries, 

109 Eighth Census : Mortality and Miscellaneous , p. 505. Probably part of the appar- 
ent growth is due to the greater completeness of the returns (see below, n. 1 11). For the 
growth of libraries during the fifties see Edward Edwards, Free Town Libraries (New 
York: John Wiley & Son, 1869); a &d U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Edu- 
cation, Public Libraries in the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 

110 National Almanac , 1864. (Philadelphia: George W. Childs), pp. 58-62. 

111 There is more material in the Census volume cited, in the National Almanac , 1864 
(by A. R. Spofford, the librarian of Congress), and in William J. Rhees, Manual of Public 
Libraries , Institutions , and Societies in the United States (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott 
& Co., 1 859) than I have been able to incorporate in my tables, as well as material for a 
slightly earlier date — 1856 — in Trubner’s Bibliographical Guide to American Literature 
and the American Almanac . Despite gaps and discrepancies, these all support such gen- 
eralizations as I here make. 

The student will find a critical discussion and comparison of these enumerations in a 
volume previously cited, Public Libraries in the United States , pp. 7 59 flf. The omissions 
and inaccuracies in the Census data are emphasized in the succeeding Census report 
C Ninth Census (1870 ) : Vol. I: Population [Washington, 1872], pp. 472-73). 


but in the number relative to the population; this superiority ex- 
tended over the whole category of libraries — public libraries of 
all sorts, proprietory libraries and association libraries, and pri- 
vate libraries. 

The biggest libraries were all in the Northeast. Boston’s new 
Public Library opened its doors in 1861, when it had nearly 
100,000 volumes; the Boston Athenaeum had 67,000 bound vol- 
umes, and the Mercantile Library a large collection. New York 
City’s Astor Library had 1 10,000 volumes when it opened its new 
building in 1859; the Mercantile Library had 57,000; and there 
were a number of other large collections. Philadelphia’s largest 
library had 70,000 volumes in 1858, and there were a number of 
smaller libraries. The state library in Albany had 52,000 books. 
All over the North there were libraries in the small towns and 
villages — libraries represented only in the statistical reports or 
in an occasional paragraph in a forgotten local history but 
which occupied a place in the life of the people hard to realize 

The largest library south of Mason and Dixon’s line was the 
Library of Congress, with 75,000 volumes. There were sizable 
libraries in Baltimore and perhaps in a few cities farther south; 
but these were small compared with the libraries of cities of the 
same size in the North, and there were few libraries in the small- 
er communities. Small libraries dotted the Frontier — mostly 
the collections of library associations — but they were all small. 
They do show, however, how infectious was the interest in books 
and libraries; and the desire to start a library as soon as the 
town had been planted shows how much respect for learning and 
how much desire to read there must have been in this period of 
American history. 


The lyceum . — It has already been pointed out that there were 
but few opportunities for the formal education of adults. In- 
deed, it is doubtful if many opportunities could have been made 
available at a time when there were so few large cities and when 

33 ° 


so many worked long hours. The thirst for knowledge was not 
left completely unsatisfied, however, for there was the lyceum. 

On the eve of the war the lyceum reached the height of its glory despite 
the fact that it lacked the effective organization of a later day. Scarcely a 
town in the North and Middle West failed to provide a winter course of from 
twelve to twenty or more lectures. Here, in assemblages listening to popular 
discussions of literature, reform, or the achievements of science, one might see 
a middle class culture in process of formation. Emerson, Beecher, Gough, 
Greeley, Agassiz, George W. Curtis and Bayard Taylor were favorites of 
audiences which came together to secure instruction as much as entertain- 
ment. The doors of these “people's colleges" were open to scholars whose 
bold opinions excluded them from the sober presentation of higher learning, 
for the “home of real thought was outside, not inside the college walls,” as 
one liberal contemporary declared . 113 

During the fifties the people of the United States were willing 
to pay a traveler-lecturer from $50 to over $200 a lecture. 113 
With such fees to be had, some of the country’s most famous 
persons were willing to lecture; nor were all of them more inter- 
ested in the fees than in the good they could do. Emerson for 
a time gave readings in Boston’s Chickering Hall afternoons, 
and Mondays at three o’clock he lectured at Mechanics’ Hall. 
But Emerson’s lecture tours reached far to the west, including 
St. Louis, Springfield, Milwaukee, and other western cities and 
towns. During the ten years from the passage of the Fugitive 
Slave Law to the Civil War he spoke constantly on subjects con- 
nected with slavery. 114 In January and February of 1855 Lowell 
delivered a series of 12 lectures on English poetry at the Lowell 
Institute with such success that people were turned away both 
afternoon and evening. 115 Bayard Taylor, in his first important 
season (1854-55) made 128 appearances at $50 each. In May, 

IIa A. C. Cole, pp. 215-16. Thomas Low Nichols’ commentary on the popularity of 
lectures in America (I, 64-69), too long for quotation, is well worth reading. 

113 Richard Croom Beatty, Bayard Taylor (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 
1936), p. i 4 6. 

114 Brooks, Life of Emerson, pp. 234-41, 249, 297. 

' "5 Edward Everett Hale, James Russell Lowell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 
1899), pp. 1 12-16. The Lowell Lectures were an endowment left by John Lowell, Jr., on 
his death in 1836. Among the lecturers it presented were Sir Charles Lyell, John Tyn- 
dall, Alfred Russell Wallace, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lord Bryce, and others of their 


1856, he wrote that in two and a half years he had delivered 285 
lectures and traveled 40,000 miles. 116 European men of letters 
also lectured: Thackeray, for instance, made a lecture tour of 
the United States in 1852, and in 1855-56 delivered his lectures 
on “The Four Georges.” 

While residents of the big cities had more frequent oppor- 
tunities to hear lecturers of distinction, the local histories of 
smaller communities, especially those of New England, mention 
lecture series in great number. In what is now the Middle West, 
where opportunities for recreation were fewer, lecturers were re- 
ceived with the greatest eagerness; it is hard to say whether they 
were regarded more as education or as recreation, so closely 
were the two aspects linked. In Chicago and St. Paul the Young 
Men's Christian Associations sponsored lecture series, and St. 
Louis had two of the finest lecture-rooms in the country. In the 
smaller western communities the lyceum was much more in- 
formal. In one Illinois village the lyceum had weekly sessions, 
during cool weather, in the schoolhouse. Many villagers en- 
rolled and furnished most of the program for themselves — most- 
ly debates. 117 As far west as Iowa at least, lecture series by lec- 
turers local or imported were given, regularly. There was noth- 
ing like this enthusiasm for the lyceum in the South, 118 but in 
many southern towns there were literary and debating societies, 
lyceum clubs, and occasional lectures. 

Dick describes the lyceum of Kansas and Nebraska: 

Young and old found amusement and social events. For the most part the 
long winter evenings were spent listening to lectures and debates, reading at 
reading rooms, arranging and looking at dramatic presentations, or dancing. 
Discussion clubs had various names such as Lyceum, Library, and Literary 
Society, Debating Society, Debating School, Athenaeum, and Dramatic 
Association. These literary societies sprang up while the towns were in their 
infancy. At Lawrence, Kansas, during the first winter the Lawrence Athenae- 
um and Mechanics Institute was founded. When Leavenworth was only a 
few weeks old [1854] the Kansas Weekly Herald announced an open air 
lyceum: “For lack of other amusement, our Citizens have organized a debat- 

116 Beatty, p. 148. 117 C. B. Johnson, chap. viii. 

118 Olmsted, coming from the North, was surprised at the absence of a lyceum in Nor- 
folk (i Seaboard Slave States, p. 136). 

33 2 


ing society which is held every night on the Levee in front of the Herald 
office. They have no light on the subject except that of the stars and the 
various camps.” 

At Brownville, Nebraska, there were two societies — a library and lyceum 
association and a debating society. Each was well patronized and grew 

Some lyceums made the practice of inviting lecturers to speak on technical 
or abstract subjects which could not draw a crowd today. At Brown ville, 
Nebraska, doctors from the budding young medical college there lectured on 
such topics as “The Bones” or “Pathology.” At other times ministers, law- 
yers, or other men of some education lectured on abstract philosophical, 
political or classical subjects. During the winter of i860 the Brownville 
Lyceum presented the following subjects: ‘^Manifest Destiny,” “Philosophy, 
Greek and Roman,” “The Historian, Statesman and the Divine.” The mem- 
bership was one dollar for the season. In 1864 the society raised four hundred 
dollars to improve the building. 11 ? 

In California, however, there seems not to have been the same 
interest in the lyceum. Mark Twain noted in the late sixties 
that “public lectures were almost an unknown commodity in the 
Pacific market.” 120 In Los Angeles the Mechanics’ Institute was 
started in 1859 to provide a lecture series, but it gave up when 
the war started. 121 

Literary societies . — Although there is no material easily ac- 
cessible from which to write a summary sketch of local literary 
societies, something should certainly be said of them. Literary 
societies, debating societies, and other societies organized for 
cultural purposes were not limited to New England or even to 
the East. In Chicago there were the Mechanics’ Institute, the 
Chicago Library Association, the Mendelssohn Literary Associ- 
ation, the Chicago Historical Association, and the Chicago 
Academy of Sciences 122 — this at a time when an easterner could 
write: “Chicago has, as we have said, with all her wealth, no 
public park, or other provision for outdoor recreation. She has 
no gallery of Art, or the beginning of one, — no establishment of 
music, no public library, — no social institution whatever, except 
the church.” 123 Olmsted found in the little Texas town of Neu 
Braunfels a Mechanics’ Institute, a Harmonic Society, a Soci- 
ety for Political Debates, and a Turners’ Society. 124 And in 

119 Sod House Frontier , pp. 70-71. 122 Andreas, II, 512-15; Pierce, II, 398-400. 

120 Roughing It, II, 332. 22 3 Kirkland, pp. 475-88. 

121 Willard, p. 292. I2 4 Texas Journey , p. 179. 


Salt Lake City the roster included the Deseret Universal Sci- 
entific Society, the Polysophical Society, the Deseret Library 
and Musical Society, the Phrenological and Horticultural Soci- 
ety, the Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society (to 
teach science and art). 1 * 5 

These little literary or debating clubs, library associations, 
dramatic groups, and singing societies, growing up spontane- 
ously all over the country, give still more evidence of that de- 
sire for knowledge and for intellectual stimulation which was so 
much a part of those pre-war years. They, too, failed as a pro- 
tection against the growing dominance of materialism in Ameri- 
can thought, but in the fifties they did much to enrich the daily 
lives of their participants. 


The church and the level of living . — No one who proposes to 
say anything about life in the nineteenth century, even purely 
economic life, can afford to omit from his discussion the influ- 
ence of the church. The difficulty lies in deciding how to fit it in : 
religion touched everyday life at many points. Of the effective- 
ness of the church in meeting the emotional needs of the people I 
can say nothing here. If the church exerted any direct force 
upon the use of productive resources, upon the accumulation of 
wealth, or upon the distribution of income, those directive ac- 
tivities might come within the limits I have set myself; I feel, 
however, that such forces were too slight, too indirect, or both, to 
justify the detailed sort of examination they would require. 
But there are at least two respects in which the influence of re- 
ligion is of direct concern to us: as a negative influence, the 
church acted as a restraint upon some of the less solemn uses for 
leisure time; on the other hand, the churches themselves, with 
the activities related to them, provided their members with op- 
portunities for the expending of a great deal of time, energy, 
and money. 

The negative aspect . — Although some of our opinions about 
what Puritanism was and what it stood for have had to be mod- 

la s Rurtonj p. 516. 



ified in recent years, it does remain true that, ,at least until the 
latter part of the nineteenth century, people's religious views 
prevented many of them from going to the theater, playing 
cards, dancing, and indulging in various other amusements 
which the church (or some denominations) regarded as wicked. 
In the fifties this restraint was less severe than it had been. The 
more tolerant denominations were growing in numbers, and 
even among the stricter ones some good church members were 
finding ways of evading inconvenient restraint. 

All this [religious solemnity] was softened among the Methodists, and still 
more among Episcopalians, Unitarians, Universalists, and Catholics. These, 
and the more independent of the unconverted on non-professors, indulged in 
dancing and other profane amusements. I have not mentioned the theatres, 
for there were none nearer than Boston, more than a hundred miles away, 
but the stage was held in holy horror. Yet pious people, who would have 
thought it sinful to go to the theatre to see a play of Shakespeare, would 
crowd the circus, just as I saw some years later, Puritanical people flocking 
to Niblo’s to see vaudeville and the ballet, because the theatre was called a 
garden. Even clergymen went, with pious ladies, to see the most objectionable 
performances of the modern stage, so long as the place where they were given 
was not called a theatre . 126 

The restraint was less severe than it had been, but it was still 
severe. Certainly the theater was regarded as an abomination 
by the orthodox denominations. The Independent declared it to 
be “an unmitigated evil/' 127 and a professor of the “University 
of the City of New York” told Ampere that he would be in 
danger of losing his position if he went to the theater too often. 128 
The prohibitions laid upon dancing and card-playing had more 
effect upon the greater part of the population, few of whom 
would have been playgoers anyway. 

I suspect, moreover, that a still greater influence was the 
strict observance of the Sabbath. Even today many can remem- 
ber childhoods in which it was regarded as sacrilegious to play 

136 Nichols, I, 77. A more common evasion was to call the theater a “museum” (see 
below, p. 354). 

127 March 23, 1854 (cited in Rhodes, III, 89). It would not be difficult to assemble a 
considerable collection of similar preachments in the religious papers of the fifties; cf. 
e.g., Pierce, II, 358 and 421. 

138 J[ean] J[acques Antoine] Ampere, Promenade en Amirique; Etats-Unis — Cuba — 
Mexique (Paris: M. L 6vy Fr£res, i860), II, 14. 


any games, to go hunting or fishing, even to stroll in the country 
or to read anything except the most serious and moral of books. 
Since for much the greater part of the population Sunday was 
the only day of leisure for the working members of the family, 
the only day the whole family could spend together, this re- 
straint upon their gaiety must have been a sore trial to all but 
the most devout. 

The positive aspect . — The statistics on churches in the Eighth 
Census, though imperfect, provide the simplest approach to this 
topic. Even if there were no churches other than those included 
in the Census, there was one church to every 580 persons (men, 
women, and children, free and slave, church members and non- 
church members). These churches averaged $3,189 in value and 
had an average capacity of 3 54 persons — they could seat more 
than 600 persons for every 1,000 of population. 129 

These over-all figures obscure significant sectional differences. 
There was no great difference in number of churches (or in ag- 
gregate accommodations) per thousand of population through- 
out the settled part of the country, but the .differences in the 
size and value of the churches are quite apparent. Churches in 
the North were larger than those in other sections (the average 
capacity was 372, compared with 329 in the South, 300 in the 
West), and the average value much higher ($4,100 in the North, 
compared with $1,730 in the South, $2,650 in the West). The 
churches of Rhode Island had the highest average value in the 
country ($10,672), followed by those of Massachusetts ($10,- 
1x5), Connecticut ($7,922), and New York ($6,643); the four 
states of New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Ohio 
had churches with an aggregate property value higher than that 
of all those in the rest of the country. Of the southern states 
only Louisiana ($5,525), Maryland ($5,400), and Delaware 
($3,840) appear to have had very costly churches, although the 
68 churches in the District of Columbia averaged about $14,000 
in value. The other southern states ranked much lower, with 
Arkansas, having an average value of $464 a church, the lowest 

129 Mortality and Miscellaneous , pp. 497-501. 


of all. The western states and territories show a more conspicu- 
ous variation among themselves. That Utah had only ai 
churches, but these with an average value of more than $41,000, 
is — although one cannot be certain of complete comparability in 
the reports — due to its peculiar religious situation. The high 
value of religious property in California (averaging $6,3 25 a 
church) may be due in part to the inclusion of mission proper- 
ties. Elsewhere in the West the average value of church prop- 
erty ranged from $4,600 in Washington down to $111 in Ne- 

Denominational differences are closely linked to sectional dif- 
ferences in property values. The Unitarian church had the high- 
est average value ($16,433); anc f> while it was not a large de- 
nomination, it was relatively strongest in New England, where 
church-property values were in general high. Of the large de- 
nominations, the Catholic church had the highest average value 
($10,500), and the states in which the Catholic church had a 
large membership had, in general, a high average value of 
church property — Massachusetts, Louisiana, California, Wash- 
ington, New Mexico. The average value of their churches is a 
good clue to the economic status of their members. In order, the 
other leading denominations were: Episcopal ($10,100); Con- 
gregational ($5,970) ; Presbyterian ($4,787) ; Lutheran ($2,531); 
Baptist ($1,764); Methodist ($1,664); and Christian ($1,212). 

The denominations — It was characteristic of religious life in 
the United States that there were a number of denominations, 
each appealing to persons of a certain intellectual, social, or eco- 
nomic status. In his book on the Americans, Nichols called at- 
tention to this proliferation of denominations. 

In America, every town of five or six thousand people is likely to have 
five or six different religious societies, called churches. The distinction of 
church and chapel is unknown. Formerly, those who are called Dissenters in 
England, talked of their meeting houses. Now, every place of worship, ex- 
cept those of the Friends, or Quakers, is called a Church. A village of five 
thousand inhabitants may have an Episcopal church, belonging to the Ameri- 
can daughter of the Church of England, a Roman Catholic church, and 
Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian, and Universalist churches . 130 

* 3 ° 1, 64-65. 


The Roman Catholic church, though still smaller in member- 
ship than the Methodists, Baptists, or Presbyterians, was 
growing rapidly. Between 1825 and 1850 nearly a million and a 
half Irish Catholics arrived in America, and by 1856 the Catho- 
lic population in the United States had reached close to 
2,500,000. The Episcopal church maintained its social prestige 
but, while growing in absolute numbers, was falling behind the 
other denominations in rate of growth; it failed to attract many 
new members in the democratic West. The Presbyterian church 
continued strong in all sections of the country, though troubled 
with occasional secessions. The Cumberland Presbyterians, 
with a membership of x 00,000, were strong in the South, but 
not to the exclusion of the parent-denomination. The Congre- 
gational church was increasing its influence as New Englanders 
settled the West; one of the country’s most famous preachers, 
Henry Ward Beecher, was a Congregationalist. 

The largest denomination of all was the Methodist church, 
with a membership of 1,000,000 in the North, and in the South 
500,000 white and 250,000 Negroes. The Baptist churches con- 
tinued to display a strong frontier influence, and, with the Meth- 
odist churches, had the greatest appeal for the Negro, freed or 
slave. By the close of the Civil War the Negro Baptist member- 
ship was estimated at 400,000. The Disciples of Christ, a com- 
paratively new denomination, was growing rapidly, having a 
membership of nearly 500,000 by the end of the Civil War. And 
the Lutheran church, following the German and Scandinavian 
immigration into the West, grew to nearly 250,000 in i860. 131 

Churches . — Among the show places of New York were Trinity 
Church, St. Paul’s, Grace Church, the Fifth Avenue and South 
Presbyterian churches, the First Baptist, St. Peter’s Roman 
Catholic and St. Patrick’s (the present St. Patrick’s was begun 

I 3 1 The Census gave no statistics on church membership, but the aggregate capacity 
of the churches of the various denominations may serve as a rough index. The leading 
denominations, on this basis, were: Methodist (6,259,799); Baptist ( 3 , 749 , 553 ); Pres- 
byterian (2,088,838); Catholic (1,404,437); Congregational (956,351); Episcopal (847,- 
296); Lutheran (757,637); Christian (681,016); Union (371,899); German Reformed 
(273,697); and the Friends (269,084). Only the main branch of each denomination is 



in 1858), the Reformed Dutch, and the French Protestant 
Episcopal. Trinity had, by i860, lost to Grace Church its place 
as the most fashionable church; the sexton of Grace Church had, 
incidentally, made himself invaluable as the social arbiter of the 
city. In Brooklyn, sightseers were shown Holy Trinity and the 
Church of the Pilgrims. Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago — these 
and many other cities had imposing churches, costing up to 
$ 120,000 each, their pews renting for good round sums (in 
Beecher’s Brooklyn church, pews rented for as much as $175). 
Nor was preaching in the North all done in the churches. Popu- 
lar preachers spoke at Sunday services in auditoriums and the- 
aters and made every effort to attract large congregations of 
those without church membership. 

Churches in the South ranged from Baltimore’s stately edi- 
fices to the rude log meeting-house not far away, in Virginia, 
which Olmsted attended. 132 Many North Carolina congrega- 
tions were in 1 860 still using crude structures erected a hundred 
years before, some of brick or stone, but most of them very 
humble in appearance. 133 Throughout the South the greater 
number of churches were small and crudely built, 134 although 
the city churches were bigger and, if not costly, at least impres- 
sive by their dignity. 

Plantation Negroes usually had preaching on or near the 
plantation, and most planters encouraged their religious aspira- 
tions or at least did not stand in their way. Frequently the 
preacher was white, or a white person was present, to make sure 
that there was no preaching of insurrection, but seldom were 
the laws against assembly invoked to prevent the Negroes from 
having religious services. In the cities and towns there were 
Negro churches, and many of the white churches had Negro 
branches, either meeting in the afternoon or sitting in the rear or 
the balcony at the regular service. 

In the West few of the churches were at all pretentious. The 

132 Seaboard Slave States, p, 88. 

133 G. G. Johnson, Ante-bellum North Carolina , pp. 435-36. 

134 Cf. Mallard, chaps, x-xi; Gilmore, p. 180; Parsons, pp. 23, in; Burke, pp. 147- 
48, and Letter V; Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States , pp. 451-61. 


best of them were barnlike meeting-houses, usually Methodist. 
Sometimes the villagers built their own church, which was heat- 
ed by a box stove and lighted by candles; sometimes the school- 
house was used for Sunday services. There were no musical in- 
struments to accompany the singing and but few hymnbooks — 
the hymns 'were lined out as they had been in New England in 
earlier days. 135 

“ The Great Awakening .” — In the early part of 1858 a spiritual 
quickening was perceptible throughout the country. In nearly 
every city there was a large, daily union prayer meeting, and 
other prayer meetings were held in private houses, in stores and 
shops, and in theaters. 136 Sunday night services were held in 
New York’s Academy of Music, with its capacity of four thou- 
sand, and there was Sunday evening preaching also in the Na- 
tional Theater in Chatham Street. 137 

More characteristic of the Great Awakening than these city 
services were the revivals and camp meetings in the rural areas, 
in which tens of thousands of conversions were reported. The 
whole South was in the stir of religious excitement, and through- 
out the South and West these meetings were eagerly awaited 
and participated in with enthusiasm. 138 Such tent meetings 
were of more than temporary importance, for, as they won con- 
verts, meeting-houses began to dot rural districts thickly and 
served not only for worship but for all sorts of community af- 
fairs — temperance rallies, singing-schools, evenings of public 
speaking — some of which were later held in the public schools 
when they were built. 

Religious activities . — We may be sure that the regular Sunday 
worship services affected more people than did any of the other 
church activities. Even in the big cities the church service pro- 
vided a regular meeting place for friends and acquaintances, a 
chance for conversation and gossip. For many it was almost the 

C. B. Johnson, pp. 68-73; cf. MacBride, passim, 

6 See A. C. Cole, pp. 252-55. 

w Harper's Weekly , III (January I, 1859), 4, 6, and (January 22, 1859), 5 1 * 

See Burke, Letter XXIX (Georgia camp meetings) ; Long, pp. 157-60 and 224-29 
(slave camp meetings and revivals) ; MacBride, chap, xxx (Iowa revivals). Nichols* de- 
scription of revivals and protracted meetings is particularly good (I, 78-82). 


only social life they had, a chance to forget their work and their 
humdrum daily lives and perhaps to obtain a welcome escape 
in a common emotional release. In small towns and rural com- 
munities the church was still more important to its members. 
The church service was frequently the only public gathering in 
the community for weeks at a time. In the sparsely settled dis- 
tricts of the South and West, where preaching was usually held 
only once or twice a month, people sometimes walked seven or 
eight miles to attend. 

Closely associated with the church were the missionary soci- 
eties and the ladies’ aid societies. The ladies’ aid, especially, 
provided an excuse for the women to meet in one another’s 
homes, and while they were sewing or quilting they could be 
finding relief from household drudgery in talk. For many wom- 
en such informal gatherings as these must have been the bright- 
est spots of their daily lives. The ladies’ aid, the social functions 
of the church itself, would certainly bulk large in any descrip- 
tion of social life in the fifties. 

Serving as social functions as well as sources of revenue were the church 
fairs, dinners, oyster suppers in cold weather and strawberry lunches in June, 
benefit performances by lecturers and by musicians such as Ole Bull, tableaus 
and amateur theatricals, although the last were condemned by the evangelical 
groups as stumbling blocks “over which sinners were eternally ruined.” 
Some few of the more liberal churches such as the Unitarians and Sweden- 
borgians went even further and held “social” dances to care for depleted 
revenues. Of all these, donation parties for ministers were perhaps the most 
popular, for th^y served as expression of affection for a spiritual leader as 
well as providing for his support. Gifts ranging from money and watches to 
potatoes and shoes represented far more than their intrinsic worth. These 
were especially welcome to the minister’s family when, as was occasionally 
the case, they proved to be the chief return the pastor received if he preached 
in a poor parish . 139 

An Englishman, passing through Indianapolis in the fifties, 
was amazed at a census showing that only 32 of the 1,920 chil- 
dren in that town were not attending Sunday school. 140 The 
census may be viewed with a certain skepticism, but the fifties 
were active years for Sunday-school workers. Each denomina- 
tion was eager to build up its Sunday schools, and the American 

139 Pierce, II, 358-59. 

140 Wilson, p. 243. 


Sunday School Union, working with the various denominations, 
had hundreds of missionaries in its service. 

In the South and West, at least, “quarterly meeting” was 
looked forward to with pleasurable anticipation, and “protract- 
ed meeting” was held every winter. The camp meetings were 
attended by people from the whole countryside, who during the 
few days of their meeting could renew old friendships and make 
new ones, talk about crops and politics and about their neigh- 
bors, as well as participate in the emotional excitement of the 
religious meetings. 

Nor were the churches interested only in themselves and their 
own members. The Southern Baptist Convention had been or- 
ganized in 1845. To 1861 it had “sent forth 750 missionaries, 
added 15,000 members to the churches, built about 200 houses 
of worship, and had collected and disbursed about $300,000.” 
Its Foreign Mission Board had many missionaries in China and 
Africa. In i860 it had 24 stations and churches, with 18 pastors 
and 1,258 members, in the Liberia region. The American Bap- 
tist Missionary Union (of the northern church) had in 1850 an 
income of $118,726.35. It had been active in Sweden since 1855, 
in France since 1832, in Germany since 1834, in other European 
countries, and in Burma, Assam, India, and China. The Ameri- 
can Baptist Home Mission Society, organized in 1845, ' m the 
year 1860-61 had receipts of $55,000. Other denominations 
were similarly active. The Home Missionary Society of the 
Congregational Church had receipts of $1 83,000 in 1 860-61 ; and 
the same denomination's foreign-mission board had expenses of 
$323,000, having then 29 missions, 124 stations, and 20 outsta- 
tions, with a staff of 370 missionaries and 346 native helpers. 
The missionary receipts of the Methodist church, home and for- 
eign, amounted to $270,000 in i860; the New School Presby- 
terian Church's receipts for foreign missions were $80,000 in 
i860; those of the Old School, $.137,000. The American Home 
Missionary Society, organized in 1826 by the Presbyterian and 
Reformed Dutch churches, had in the later fifties 986 ministers 
supplying 1,965 mission pulpits. 141 

*41 A. H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States , Vol. II of 
American Church History (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1894), pp. 455, 460, 

34 * 


The American Bible Society, formed in 1 8 16 and possessed of 
a new building in Astor Place in 1851, split in 1859. The New 
York society in 1 860-6 x had receipts of $389,000; during that 
year it issued 700,000 Bibles and Testaments. The American 
Tract Society, dating from 1824, in 1861 received $93,000 in 
donations, issued 6,700,000 pages of tracts, and had in the fifties 
an average of 1,050 distributors. In many frontier regions the 
colporteur provided amost all the new additions to the farmer’s 
scanty store of literature and brought him some measure of con- 
tact with the outside world. The American Sunday School Un- 
ion employed 350 persons in 1856, and in 1859 established more 
than 2,000 new Sunday schools, while visiting and helping near- 
ly 4,000. The American and Foreign Christian Union, organized 
in 1839, worked chiefly in Catholic countries. 142 These statistics 
indicate something of the magnitude of missionary endeavors in 
the fifties, and it must be remembered, too, that such societies 
as the American Seamen’s Friend Society did much work that 
was essentially of a missionary nature. 

All these figures on church membership, missionary activity, 
and the like, can have meaning only as suggestive of something 
more fundamental lying behind them. They reflect a religious 
faith and a devotion to good works which must have given a 
meaning to the lives of many, if not most, of the population. 
The things I have been talking about in this chapter — the be- 
lief in education and the zest for acquiring knowledge, faith in a 
personal God and a zeal for doing his work — go far in explaining 
why the Americans of the fifties were free from the feeling of 
hopeless futility now so pervasive. It is not the whole explana- 
tion, of course. Another reason was that few people in the fifties 
had enough time on their hands to have an opportunity for bore- 
dom and cynicism. The amount of leisure they did have and 
what they did with it require a chapter to themselves. 

471-73; A. H. Newman (ed.), A Century of Baptist Achievement (Philadelphia: Ameri- 
can Baptist Pub. Soc., 1901), p. 184; Fite, pp. 302-4; “American Benevolent Societies,” 
Harper's Weekly, I (May 16, 1857), 316-18. 

142 Fite, pp. 301-2; “American Benevolent Societies,” pp. 316-18. 




Leisure and the level of living . — I have left until the last what I 
have to say about leisure and its uses because, from a certain 
point of view, leisure is a residual. Food, clothing, and shelter 
and whatever else may be regarded as “necessities” must be pro- 
duced before the economy can afford its workers time for idleness 
and recreation. Once technological progress and the accumu- 
lation of capital have reduced the number of hours a week re- 
quired to produce these essential commodities, it is a matter of 
choice whether the time saved be used for leisure or for the pro- 
duction of more goods. Since in practice both the amount of 
leisure and the output of commodities have increased, it is safe 
to assume that most workers prefer to take part of the gain in 
spare time, part in a larger consumption of goods. Rut, since 
additional leisure is to be obtained only at the expense of goods 
and additional goods only at the expense of leisure, leisure itself 
must be considered as a “good” and consequently as entering 
into the level of living. 

Hours of labor in i860 . — During the two decades just preced- 
ing i860 the working day had been shortened somewhat, though 
the amount of reduction differed markedly among the various 
occupational groups. From such information as can be obtained, 
it appears that the average working day, apart from farm labor, 
was something like 1 1 hours a day — but there were a good many 
occupations for which this could not stand as typical. 1 

1 Tables 43 and 44 in Appen. G give some idea of the differences in the length of the 
working day for different employments and the numbers working longer or shorter days 
than the average. The available compilations of data on the length of the working day 
are largely identical with those on wages (Appen. B). The greatest amount of data is 
contained in the Bureau of Labor Statistics publication, History of Wages in the United 




For skilled trades the io-hour day seems to have been almost 
standard in i860, at least in the East. Unskilled labor, em- 
ployed outside factories, was likely to work 10 hours a day also. 
Railroad labor usually worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week 
(New York’s street-railway employees worked 12 hours a day, 
seven days a week); miners also about 10 hours a day. 

New England’s textile mills offered a sharp contrast to these 
hours: the 11-hour day would seem to be fairly typical, though 
there were numerous factories, especially in Rhode Island, 
where the working day was much longer. 2 In machine shops and 
in iron and steel mills the working day was shorter than in tex- 
tile mills — frequently 10 hours, sometimes 1 1, occasionally long- 
er. In the “sweated” trades the hours were still longer: the 
New York Tribune went so far as to estimate that New York 
City’s shirt-sewers worked 10 hours a day. 3 

There is hardly enough information to justify generalization 
as to the hours worked in retail trade. The Aldrich Report put 
the hours of dry-goods clerks and grocery clerks at 11 a day, but 
the data were too few to insure their being representative. The 
New York Tribune put the hours of those working in New York 

States from Colonial Times to 1928; but it is not presented in such' a way as to lend itself 
to summary statement or tabulation. 

a “In 1853 eleven hours was adopted in many parts of the country as the work-day, 
apparently for the purpose of heading off the ten-hour movement. In some places the 
factories continued to be run on the old hours until about 1865, when the eleven hour 
system was adopted, as the result of strikes” (George E. McNeill, The Labor Movement 
[Boston: A. M. Bridgman & Co., 1887], p. 121). 

In Massachusetts the io-hour movement failed to achieve its aims during the fifties 
but did succeed in getting important concessions. In five industrial towns, during 1852., 
machine-shop hours were reduced to 11, and even before that many had been reduced 
to 10. In Worcester, in 1853, the io-hour day was “all but universal/' In the height of 
the io-hour agitation, in 1853, even the great textile factories reduced their average 
hours to 11 (Farnum, p. 266). According to the Annual Report for the Year 188s of the 
Massachusetts Bureau of Labor and Industries, the io-hour day in textiles was, in 1885, 
still considered a recent innovation, though it had been the rule in the “mechanic trades” 
since not many years after 1840 (p. 166). In New Hampshire, beginning about i860 the 
machine-shop employees, dyehouse hands, pickers, and dresser hands were working 10 
hours a day, all other mill operatives lof. There had been a continuous downward 
trend since 1830, when the working day had been 14^ hours (New Hampshire Bureau of 
Labor, Annual Report for the Year 1894 [Concord: Edward N, Pearson, 1894], p. 459). 

3 New York Daily Tribune , cited by Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, XLII (i860), 750. 



City at 1 4 or longer, and in Chicago the clerks in the mercantile 
establishments in the middle of the decade also usually worked 
about 14 hours a day, although in 1855 the leading grocers an- 
nounced an eight-o’clock closing hour during the winter, and 
some shoe dealers and clothiers adopted the same closing hour 
except for Saturdays. 4 Bakers, according to the New York 
Tribune , worked 17 hours a day. 

Employees on federal public works were put on a xo-hour day 
in 1840, and the io-hour day continued standard until 1868. 
Those engaged on city public works, according to the Aldrich 
Report, worked somewhat longer hours — 10.4 hours a day on 
the average. 

More than half the working population was still employed 
in agricultural labor, and there the trend toward shorter hours 
had not yet become evident. 5 In the North and West the usual 
day was from sun to sun — say 1 1 hours a day as a year-round 
average — which was no shorter than the hours worked by the 
Negro slaves in the South. 6 

For the population as a whole the hours of labor had dropped 
from about 1 hours a day previous to 1 830 to 1 1 by 1 870. By 
1 850 at least a third were working only 1 1 hours a day. 7 Besides 
the reductions in hours, there were probably more days taken 
off for holidays and for vacations than there had been earlier. 
But there was still little leisure time in which the laboring man 
could enjoy himself, and, apart from the southern planters, 
there does not appear to have been much of a disposition on the 
part of those who could afford leisure to avail themselves of it. 
Businessmen found their chief enjoyment in working or, if they 

4 Pierce, II, 173-74. In the same year the barbers tried, unsuccessfully, to have the 
city council legislate against their Sunday employment. 

5 But note the comment in the New York Daily Tribune , May 5, i860, that farm 
hands were beginning to insist on a io-hour day. 

6 See the testimony in Starnes, pp. 495-503. Sunrise to sunset was the usual working 
day for slaves, but frequently with 2 or 2§ hours for dinner. Some of the hands working 
on tasks would finish their day’s work by three or four o’clock in the afternoon, although 
this cannot have been common. 

7 Charles Edward Lindblom, “The Growth of Leisure Time in the United States as 
Affected by Decreasing Hours of Work for Those Gainfully Employed” (unpublished 
MS), pp. 56 and 58. 


did not actually enjoy it, at any rate felt lost outside their of- 
fices. Thomas Low Nichols wrote : 

In no country are the faces of the people furrowed with harder lines of 
care. In no country that I know is there so much hard, toilsome, unremitting 
labour: in none so little of the recreation and enjoyment in life. Work and 

worry eat out the heart of the people, and they die before their time 

It is seldom that an American retires from business to enjoy his fortune in 
comfort. Money-making becomes a habit. He works because he has always 
worked, and knows no other way . 8 

Vacations . — I have found no explicit information bearing on 
the number of people who could take vacations, with or without 
pay, but I have the very definite impression that only the few 
could enjoy this luxury. My only evidence is of a negative sort 
— none of the contemporary writers said anything about mem- 
bers of the working classes taking vacations, and that is just the 
kind of thing they would have written about if they could have. 

The extension and improvement of railway lines and their 
steamboat connections made it possible for Americans to travel 
widely in comparative comfort. That they made use of their op- 
portunities is attested by the number of European visitors who 
commented on the Americans’ urge to travel. According to the 
Countess Pulszky, society people in summer habitually deserted 
the cities for country seats on the Hudson or made a trip to 
Europe or more often went to Saratoga or some other watering 
place. Ladies made frequent excursions to Mobile and New 
Orleans . 9 

Many sightseers went to Niagara Falls (not yet the special 
tour for honeymooners), where the hotels catered to vacation- 
ists and the “Maid of the Mist” carried passengers to the very 
vortex of the falls. Others went to Trenton Falls or to the Cat- 
skills and to the White Pine Mountains of New Hampshire. 
Some went camping in the northern woods, and more venture- 
some travelers traveled over the newly completed railroads to 

8 Nichols (1874 ed.), P- 206. 

9 Pulszky, I, 67. Transatlantic travel was certainly too expensive for any but the 
affluent — cf. such advertisements as that in Harper's Weekly , II (March 27, 1858), 207, 
for a pleasure voyage up the Mediterranean on the steamer “Ericsson” at a fare of 
$ 75 °* 



the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi. As part of what 
George Catlin designated as the “Fashionable Tour,” the upper 
Mississippi attracted tourists from the East who stopped first 
at St. Louis, then went by steamboat to Rock Island, Galena, 
Dubuque, Prairie du Chien, Lake Pepin, St. Peters, and the 
Falls of St. Anthony, back to Prairie du Chien, and then to Fort 
Winnebago, Green Bay, Mackinaw, Sault Ste Marie, Detroit, 
Buffalo, Niagara, and back east again. 10 

The fashionable spent the summers at a spa or at an accept- 
able seaside resort. At Saratoga, Newport, Old Point Comfort, 
Nahant, and similar resorts vacationists could live at luxurious 
hotels and spend their days in driving, playing billiards or bowl- 
ing, bathing, and lounging. In the evenings there were frequent 
band concerts, balls, and parties. At Saratoga there was a good 
deal of racing and gambling. Cape May, Atlantic City, Long 
Branch, and Coney Island were less fashionable and less expen- 
sive. Wealthy southerners had long been conspicuous for their 
patronage of the northern resorts; but in the fifties the growth of 
sectionalism kept many of them away and stimulated the rise 
in popularity of the various Virginia springs and Carolina re- 
sorts. In Kentucky there were also a number of taverns and 
watering places which attracted resorters, and new resorts in the 
Gulf regions of Mississippi were acquiring prominence. 

While only the wealthy could take long trips or live at re- 
sorts, short excursions, particularly holiday excursions on steam- 
boat or railroad, were popular all over the country. All through 
the summer there were steamboat excursions, costing only 25 or 
50 cents, from New York City to near-by points and more ex- 
pensive rail excursions to the Pennsylvania coal fields and else- 
where. Other northern cities, located on water or rail, had their 
own facilities for excursions. Along the Ohio and the Mississippi 
excursions were especially popular — for the Fourth of July, for 
Sunday-school outings, for picnics, for outings of any sort. 
Other steamboat excursions were longer. In 1857 the “Henry 
Clay” and the “Northern Belle” brought pleasure parties north 
from St. Louis and Dubuque and gave a grand ball for the prin- 

10 Petersen, pp. 250-51. 

34 § 


cipal citizens of St. Paul while in that port. The “Harmonic,” 
the “Rescue,” the “Rosalie,” the “Orb,” the “Sam Young,” the 
“Conewago,” the “Denmark,” and the ‘.‘Key City” were only a 
few of the steamboats carrying excursionists on the upper Mis- 
sissippi that year. 11 

Holidays . — In contrast with Europe and particularly with the 
Catholic countries, there were few general holidays in the United 
States. What few there were, were made festive occasions. 
There was more of the genuine holiday spirit in the celebration 
of the Fourth of July than of any of the others. Coming in mid- 
summer, it could be made the occasion for outdoor events of all 
kinds, and there were no religious associations to make it in any 
way an austere observance. Newspaper accounts indicate a 
good deal of similarity in Fourth of July celebrations over the 
country. Boston’s, in i860, included a parade, concerts, an ora- 
tion by Edward Everett, a regatta, fireworks, and other features. 
Only the regatta was at all distinctive — the patriotic oration, 
the parade, the fireworks, the concerts, were all part of the tra- 
ditional observance of the day. New York City made prepara- 
tions for an elaborate program ; and, while in Philadelphia there 
was no official program, there were all sorts of activities by mili- 
tary companies and other societies and excursions to the sea- 
shore, to Bethlehem, and to the West. In Chicago the day 
opened with a salute by the Chicago Light Artillery at day- 
break. There were the usual parade and rail and boat excur- 
sions. 1 * 

In smaller localities the celebration could not be on such a 
grand scale, but the festivities were participated in with even 
greater enthusiasm. Always there was the oration; and, if there 
were any military companies, volunteer fire companies, or other 
uniformed groups, there was sure to be a parade. It was a day 
for family picnics, and those who took their dinners to the 

11 Ibid. 

12 Boston Evening Transcript, July 2, i860; New York Herald, July 4, i860; Philadel- 
phia Press, July 4, i860; Chicago Daily Tribune , July 4, i860. (See also Pierce, II, 471. 
She describes the usual Chicago celebration as including oratory, fireworks, dances, ex- 
cursions, picnics, baseball games and horse racing, balloon ascensions, salvos of boom- 
ing cannon and ringing of church bells, military drills and reviews.) 



square could listen, to the bands and the oratory and at night 
see the fireworks. Still smaller villages celebrated as best they 
could, with powder discharges in anvils or in holes bored in logs, 
and at night with homemade fireworks. 

There were few other real holidays in the North. Christmas 
was still a solemn day, though traces of gaiety were beginning to 
creep in. It was Thanksgiving which in the North occupied the 
place Christmas did in the South — a day of huge family dinners, 
sociable gatherings, and good fellowship. New Year’s Day, in 
the big cities, was traditionally a day upon which the fashion- 
able men, leaving their wives at home to receive, spent the 
whole day calling at the homes of their friends; sometimes they 
accepted liquid refreshment at each stop and ended the day in a 
condition which may easily be imagined. I have found no indi- 
cations of any more general observance of New Year’s. Certain- 
ly New Year’s Eve had not come to be regarded as a time set 
apart for general revelry. 

The South, having little of the North’s austere attitude to- 
ward idleness, required a much slighter pretext for taking a day 
off. Washington’s Birthday was almost always celebrated, but 
a day commemorating some national political victory, or even 
the completion of a railroad, was frequently made the excuse for 
a holiday. Funeral ceremonies for national figures or local celeb- 
rities were public occasions. The celebration of the Fourth of 
July was much like that in the North. There was usually a 
reading of the Declaration of Independence and an oration, and 
there were sure to be barbecues and picnics. There were teas 
and concerts, and the public school exercises might be part of 
the program. In the evening there was usually a subscription 
ball. The southern Christmas is so much a part now of the 
American tradition that any description seems unnecessary . 13 
On the plantations the whole holiday period, lasting through 

New Year’s, might be free from work. 


13 The flavor of the southern Christmas is captured in such contemporary short 
stories as W. Gilmore Simms, “Maize in Milk”; in reminiscences such as Avirett’s 
(chap, xxiv); and in such later accounts as that of Thomas Nelson Page, The Old South 
(Plantation ed.; New York: Scribner’s, 1912), pp. 208 ff. 



The barbecue was almost, if not entirely, peculiar to the 
South. When the barbecue was spontaneously got up merely 
for the fun it provided, it might be furnished by one person or 
by a group; there were no invitations and it was understood that 
the whole community was welcome — men, women, children, and 
Negroes. The slaves arrived in the morning, bringing (if it was 
a large barbecue) perhaps a wagonload of young pigs, two or 
three lambs, and generous amounts of whisky and wine. The 
carcasses were roasted whole in pits, over live coals. While prep- 
arations were being made, there was an hour or two for friendly 
intermingling, with games, stories, and conversation. Then the 
eating began in earnest, and after the white folks had done their 
best the Negroes were left to eat what remained. The political 
barbecue was almost equally enjoyable, but at the expense of 
the aspiring candidate. 

In western regions the Fourth of July was typically celebrated 
with formal programs, with huge public dinners, and with great 
balls to which the entire countryside came. There were ball 
games and other athletic events, horse races, and frequently in- 
formal celebrations of a more convivial character. Christmas 
and Thanksgiving seem to have been observed only with family 
dinners and religious services. 


Opera and concert . — Americans had not yet displayed any 
great interest in opera. Except at New Orleans, opera consisted 
of short seasons by imported troupes, and all attempts to estab- 
lish opera on a permanent basis had failed (they did not suc- 
ceed, for that matter, until the building of the Metropolitan 
Opera House in New York City in 1883). Opera, in these short 
seasons, did become a regular feature of the social life of New 
York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and perhaps of Chi- 
cago and San Francisco; and other cities were occasionally visit- 
ed by touring companies presenting Italian opera or opera in 
English. 14 During the early fifties the rival companies headed 

14 German opera was first performed in 1859 but did not immediately attract any 



by Mme Marietta Alboni and Mme Henrietta Sontag competed 
for public favor, although Grisi and Mario were the most popu- 
lar singers. Later in the decade the rivalry was provided by the 
companies of Ullman, Maretzek, and Strakosch, and in 1859 the 
young Adelina Patti made her debut and leaped into immediate 
popularity. Boston, New York, Brooklyn, and even Milwaukee 
built new academies of music during the decade, but even low 
prices (usually seats were priced at from 25 cents up to perhaps 
$1.50) failed to make opera popular. 

Most of the big cities and some of the smaller ones had or- 
chestras, but with few exceptions they were partly or wholly 
amateur, and none gave really finished performances. Boston’s 
“Musical Fund Society” presented concerts from 1847 to 1855 
and the “Boston Philharmonic” from 1855 to 1864, with seats 
sometimes $ 1 . 00 , sometimes $ 2.50 for a series of six. New York 
City’s “Philharmonic Society,” dating from 1842, had, by i860, 
80 members and 1,800 regular subscribers and was presenting 
regular concerts at $1.50 a seat. Its concerts, however, were in- 
frequent and its members rather lacking in proficiency. Phila- 
delphia’s “Musical Fund Society,” which had been organized 
in 1821, disbanded in 1857, leaving the city without an orches- 
tra. Chicago’s first orchestra of symphonic proportions was re- 
organized in i860 to present its first season in 1860-61. In the 
smaller northern cities traveling groups supplemented programs 
by local amateurs, but there was little such musical activity in 
the South. Two chamber groups — the Mendelssohn Quintet 
Club (Boston) and the Mason-Thomas Quintet (New York) — 
gave concerts in their home cities and in others. 

By far the most prominent of the soloists who toured the 
country before the Civil War was Jenny Lind, who under P. T. 
Barnum’s management gave recitals in all the large cities along 
the Atlantic coast and completed her tour by singing in the 
cities along the Mississippi and the Ohio. No singer since her 
time has created anything like the furor she did; but throughout 
the fifties there were other soloists of prominence touring the 
country — the child prodigy Adelina Patti and other opera stars 
in off-seasons, the pianist Louis Gottschalk, the violin-and- 

35 ^ 


piano team of Henri Vieuxtemps and Sigismond Thalberg, Ole 
Bull early in the decade, and others. The Negro slave. Blind 
Tom, was a popular performer in the South. 

While one can find indications of a yearning for the “finer 
things” in the musical annals of the fifties, the actual achieve- 
ments were slight. The names of some of the performers are 
carefully preserved in the histories of music, but there were few 
really capable concert artists, and they were but poorly patron- 
ized. The orchestras were of a caliber which would not be toler- 
ated today, and their programs, like those of the soloists, dis- 
tinctly “popular” in their appeal. 15 Nor, except for Stephen 
Foster, were there any American composers whose works have 

Music by amateurs . — It would be overhasty to dismiss music 
in this fashion. There were not enough wealthy people to sub- 
sidize musicians, and the common people had too little time and 
money to support them. If music was to enrich the lives of the 
people, it had to be music which they themselves created. Here 
the period was not so barren. 

It was in choral organizations that the musical spirit of the 
time found its fullest development. Boston’s “Handel and 
Haydn Society,” with a continuous history from 1815, was per- 
haps the best and certainly the best-known singing society, but 
there were splendid choruses in New York and Philadelphia and 
similar groups in towns and cities throughout the North. Many 
of them gave public concerts, singing oratorios and other music, 
sacred and secular, with some degree of regularity. The German 
members of the population had their own singing societies wher- 
ever there were enough of them to make up a chorus and did 
much to stimulate an interest in music. Even in villages and 
small towns there were choral groups who found their evenings 
of singing together a pleasant relief from the usual monotony. 
Such little, informal, groups as these were to be found in all 

IS “It is hard to realize now how untrained the musical taste of most Americans was 
a century ago. At one of Ole Bull's recitals a man in the audience set up a demand for 
‘Yankee Doodle' — and the violinist with a smile complied" (George Frisbie Whicher, 
This Was a Poet [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939], p. 56). 



parts of the country, and in all parts, too, rural communities 
had singing schools to which people came for miles around for an 
evening of singing and sociability. 

The extent to which people provided their own music in their 
homes can only be guessed at. Nichols believed that there were 
ten pianos in every American town and village to one in England 
and commented on the number of bands and amateur musical 
organizations . 16 Probably every small town, in the North at 
least, had its group or groups of instrumentalists who met to 
play together for their own amusement and to give an occasional 
concert. Emigrants to the West carried their musical instru- 
ments with them, to make the weary days of travel less tedious 
and to make life more enjoyable in the pioneer regions for which 
they were bound. Although the South failed to distinguish it- 
self in its patronage of music and the arts, the planters who ad- 
hered to the country-gentleman tradition had musical instru- 
ments in their homes, and singing and playing by members of 
the family among themselves and for the entertainment of their 
guests were not uncommon. Despite such indications, however, 
I do not have the impression that anywhere in the country was 
there much of that love for music which finds its realization in 
the making of music within the family circle. 

The legitimate theater . — It needs to be pointed out at the very 
beginning that the theater of the fifties was in function totally 
unlike that of today. Far from being small theaters catering to 
class audiences, the houses were large, and the bills were chosen 
for their appeal to the masses. The theater then occupied more 
the place of today’s moving picture than of today’s legitimate 
theater, and, as is now true of the movies, runs were very short . 17 
Even so, there is testimony to the effect that the American thea- 
ter was not flourishing, and that Americans went less often to 

16 1 , 396; c f. C. B. Johnson (p. 81), who says that there were practically no pianos or 
cottage organs in Illinois. The Census of i860 (. Manufactures , p. clxvi) reported a pro- 
duction for the year of 21,797 pianos and 12,643 melodeons. 

17 The mass, rather than class, appeal of the theater of the middle of the nineteenth 
century is a seemingly obvious fact which the historians of the theater have ignored. It 
is well brought out in Foster Rhea Dulles, America Learns To Play (New York: D. Ap- 
ple ton-Century Co., Inc., 1940). 



the theater than did Europeans. 18 One reason for this, especially 
in the North, was the lingering tendency to regard the theater 
as immoral — a tendency responsible for theaters in Boston, New 
York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and perhaps other cities mas- 
querading as “museums.’' 

The general run of plays in the fifties were second-rate com- 
edies, farces, melodramas, musical shows, extravaganzas, and 
burlesques; even to see a Shakespeare play at one of the better 
theaters one had to sit through comic songs and variety acts 
sandwiched between the acts. 19 The plays most performed were 
such melodramas as Ten Nights in a Barroom , The Drunkard , 
and Uncle Tom's Cabin. Of a somewhat higher order were the 
works of British playwrights, contemporary and earlier, with a 
considerable sprinkling of Shakespeare. 

Judged on the basis of quality of performance, the period was 
neither brilliant nor barren.™ During the decade theatergoers 

18 Cf. Hancock, p. 98; Phillippo, p. 98; Pulszky, II, 240. 

19 Dulles. 

30 There are many histories of the theater, although almost without exception their 
scope is limited to the more prominent plays and players of the metropolitan theaters. 
Among them are Oral Sumner Coad and Edward Mims, Jr., The American Stage (New 
Haven: Yale University Press, 1929); Mary Carolina Crawford, The Romance of the 
American Theater (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1913); Ruth Crosby Dimmick, Our 
Theaters : Today and Yesterday (New York: H. K. Fly Co., 1913); Arthur Hornblow, A 
History of the Theater in America (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1919), Vol. II; 
Laurence Hutton, Plays and Players (New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1875); Lewis C. 
Strang, Players and Plays of the Last Quarter Century (Boston: L. C. Page & Co., 1903), 
Vol. I. 

For local histories and special topics see: Kate Ryan, Old Boston Museum "Days (Bos- 
ton: Little, Brown & Co., 1915); Eugene Tompkins, History of the Boston Theater , 1834- 
1901 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1908); George D. Willard, History of the Provi- 
dence Stage (Providence: Rhode Island News Co., 1891); T. Allston Brown, A History 
of the New York Stage (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1903), Vols. I and II; Joseph N. 
Ireland, Records of the New York Stage /from 1750 to i860 (New York: T. H. Morrell, 
1866-67); Fritz A. H. Leuchs, The Early German Theater in New York , 1840-1872 (New 
York: Columbia University Press, 1928) ; Ralph Hartman Ware, American Adaptations 
of French Plays on the New York and Philadelphia Stages from 183410 the Civil War (Phil- 
adelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1930); Henry P. Phelps, Players of a Cen- 
tury: A Record of the Albany Stage (Albany: Joseph McDonough, 1880); Arthur Her- 
man Wilson, History of the Philadelphia Theater (Philadelphia: University of Pennsyl- 
vania Press, 1935) ; James Napier Wilt, “The History of the Two Rice Theaters in Chi- 
cago from 1847 to 1857” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of English, Uni- 
versity of Chicago, 1923); Joseph S. Schick, “Cultural Beginnings and the Rise of the 
Theater, German and American, in Eastern Iowa, 1836-1863” (unpublished Ph.D. dis- 



could see such actors and actresses as E. A. Sothern, Edwin 
Booth, Edwin Forrest, Charlotte Cushman, Laura Keene, John 
Gilbert, William Evans Burton, and William Warren (each of 
whom had his supporters for the claim of being the greatest 
actor in comedy roles, as had Booth and Forrest in tragedy), 
E. L. Davenport, Lola Montez, and Maggie Mitchell. Dion 
Boucicault, who had come to the United States in 1854, figured 
as playwright, producer, and actor. Macready had retired in 
1851, Keene made no appearances in the United States between 
1845 and 1866, and Rachel, after appearing in this country in 
the middle of the decade, died in 1858. Joseph Jefferson, later 
to be famous for his “Rip Van Winkle,” gave only a few per- 
formances during the fifties, and spent much of his time abroad. 

The more prominent actors made tours of the country, during 
which, supported by the permanent companies of the theaters 
in which they played, they appeared in Boston, New York, 
Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile (with 
perhaps a side trip to Havana), and New Orleans, then up the 
Mississippi and back by way of the Ohio or the Great Lakes. 
Smaller cities might or might not be included. Runs of any one 
play of more than a few days were exceptional, so the stars and 
companies had to have large repertories. 

Generalization as to the physical characteristics of the thea- 
ters is difficult. For some time previous to 1850 there had been 
little building of new theaters; and the theaters at the beginning 
of the decade were most of them old and dilapidated, built in 
the traditional English fashion, with pit, parquet, and boxes 
(the pit was either without seats or was provided only with 

sertation, Department of English, University of Chicago, 1937); Alfred Henry Nolle, 
The German Drama on the St. Louis Stage (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania 
Press, 1917); Lucile Gafford, “Material Conditions in the Theatres of New Orleans be- 
fore the Civil War” (unpublished M. A. Thesis, Department of English, University of 
Chicago, 1925); George D. Pyper, The Romance of an Old Playhouse (Salt Lake City: 
Seagull Press, 1938); Joseph Gaer (ed.), The Theater of the Gold Rush Decade in San 
Francisco (“California Literary Research Monographs,” No. 5 [California Emergency 
Relief Association]); Constance Rourke, Troupers of the Gold Coast (New York: Har- 
court. Brace, & Co., 1928). 

Reminiscences and biographies of those connected with the theater of the fifties also 
contain much relevant material. 

35 6 


crude benches and in some theaters had only the bare ground 
for a floor). Despite the building of new theaters during the 
fifties, with more comfortable seats, more pleasing interiors, and 
more convenient arrangements, many of these older theaters 
continued in use. Admission prices were fairly uniform through- 
out the East — 50 cents for the boxes and parquet, 25 cents for 
the family and upper circles. The less fashionable theaters 
charged as little as 1 2§ cents. 

New York City was the center of theatrical life; and in i860 
there were perhaps a dozen regular theaters offering dramatic 
entertainment there, with capacities up to 3,000 persons. 
Broadway had already superseded the Bowery as “the” street 
for theaters, and the old Bowery theaters were presenting blood- 
and-thunder melodramas at low admission prices. 21 Broadway 
theaters were presenting such bills as The Octoroon , Jefferson, 
Sothern, and Laura Keene in Our American Cousin , Edwin 
Booth and Edwin Forrest in Shakespearean and other plays, 
and stock companies and stars in a great variety of offerings. 
There were also theaters presenting French and German drama. 
Boston had only three or four theaters; but one of them, the 
Boston Theater, erected in 1854, was perhaps the finest in the 
country. They, too, had a variety of bills, with stock companies 
and prominent stars. Philadelphia had two or three regular 
theaters, but in the latter fifties the Arch Street Theater had 
things pretty much its own way. 

There were permanent theaters in all northern cities as far 
west as Chicago and St. Louis. Some were pretentious in ap- 
pearance, some were not; but the system of traveling stars made 
it possible for theatergoers in Providence, Albany, Pittsburgh, 
Cincinnati, Chicago, and other cities to see the same actors in 
the same plays that were featured in New York. In cities with 
a large German population there was sure to be at least one Ger- 
man theater, though the line of distinction between the theater 
and the beer garden would not always have been easy to draw. 

21 For the degeneration of the Bowery theaters see Asbury, The Gangs of New York, 

pp. 23 ff. 


35 7 

While several cities in the South were regular or occasional 
stops for actors on tour, except in New Orleans the theaters ap- 
pear to have been few and antiquated and the theatrical life un- 
distinguished. As in the smaller towns of the North, the theater 
ran more to amateur theatricals and to second-rate companies 
on tour. But New Orleans did have two or three excellent the- 
aters, and its seasons were as brilliant as those of the East. 

In the frontier regions there was sometimes a theater, more 
often not, and such performances as were given took place in 
improvised halls. There were amateur theatricals, strolling com- 
panies of varying merit, and, along the Mississippi, showboats. 
A number of theaters were built in San Francisco during the 
fifties, some of them elaborate in decoration and equipment; but 
by the end of the decade legitimate drama had almost complete- 
ly disappeared, as the popular taste turned to “variety” bills. 
Elsewhere in California there were few regular theaters, but 
dramatic companies, some good and some bad, made the rounds 
of the towns and camps. 

Many of those who considered the theater immoral could per- 
mit themselves to hear plays read, nor was the popularity of 
readings limited to those who did not attend plays. One of the 
most popular of those who gave readings was Fanny Kemble, 
who had retired from the stage much earlier but whose appear- 
ances in Boston and other large cities found appreciative audi- 
ences at a dollar and more for . a series of, for instance, six read- 
ings from Shakespeare, 

Amateur theatricals — No one has yet collected any material 
bearing on the history of the amateur stage, and it remains 
buried in the hundreds of local histories. One cannot look at 
many of these histories, however, without concluding that little 
theaters and dramatic groups, often connected with literary and 
debating societies, were to be found in almost every community. 
Giving their performances in school buildings or small halls, 
with improvised costumes and properties, they — like the musi- 
cal and literary organizations — provided an excuse for coming 
together and gave added interest to the lives of young people of 
village and country. In towns and cities they had more to work 



with, but they can hardly have given so much real enjoyment to 
participants and spectators. 

Art and art museums . — Of the painters of the fifties only In- 
ness and the Hudson River School are still remembered, unless 
Morse — whose fame as an inventor has called attention to his 
failure as a painter — be included. Of the sculptors. Powers and 
Greenough, both living in Italy, achieved some degree of fame; 
and a few people have heard of Clark Mills. 

If there was no great art in America, neither was there any 
great interest in art. There were few museums in i860, and 
most of these were either small or were merely nondescript col- 
lections of curios. 22 There were several historical societies with 
collections of various sorts in New England and south as far as 
Maryland. A few of the colleges had natural-history collections 
resulting from state geological surveys; a few natural-history 
societies also had collections open to the public. Destined to be- 
come the best-known museum in the country was the Smithso- 
nian Institution, erected 1847-56; but the transfer of specimens 
from the Patent Office did not take place until 1858, and it was 
some time before the Smithsonian collection was large enough 
to attract many spectators. Museums like Barnum’s in New 
York attracted many customers, the museums in connection 
with some of the theaters may have interested some of the 
play-goers, and the traveling museums of various sorts proba- 
bly were well patronized throughout the country. There were 
no zoos. 

There were no public art museums before 1870, although 
Charleston had made an effort to start a collection in 1858. 23 
The Pennsylvania Academy, founded in 1826, survived; and 
New York’s National Academy of Design (a school) had annual 
exhibitions. The Wadsworth Athenaeum had a picture gallery 
in 1842; and in the fifties the Brooklyn Institute had a gallery. 

33 See Laurence Vail Coleman, The Museum in America (Washington: American 
Association of Museums, 1939), I5 8 ff. 

33 Coleman, pp. 14-15. There was talk of the need for public galleries in such diverse 
publications as the Scientific American (“Public Art Museums,” II [February 11, i860]), 
106, and Godefs Lady's Book (“Art in America,” LXII [March, 1861], 269-70). 


Yale’s Trumbull Gallery, which in 1832 was the first college art 
museum, was followed by others in the fifties, like those at Har- 
vard and Michigan. New York’s Gallery of Fine Arts, originally 
private, was taken over in 1858 by the New York Historical 
Society, and the city also acquired, sometime after 1853, the 
Bryan Gallery of Christian Art (a collection of old masters). 24 
In i860 Yale acquired the James Jackson Jarves collection of 
the best Italian paintings. An occasional museum had a picture 
gallery, and in the larger cities, particularly New York, there 
were private galleries, and there were more or less regular ex- 
hibitions in other cities. There were a few good private collec- 
tions, such as those of H. C. Carey and W. W. Corcoran; but, 
while Corcoran had given the city of Washington an art gallery 
for which ground was broken in 1 8 57, it was not used as such 
until fifteen years after its completion. 


Variety and minstrel shows . — Negro minstrels and variety 
(vaudeville) shows helped more people pass away their time 
than did the legitimate theater. Innumerable small houses in 
the cities presented shows of the sort, and communities which 
had little or no opportunities to see plays were frequently visited 
by troupes of variety performers. It is my impression that there 
were few towns so small or so isolated as to have no opportuni- 
ties to see magicians, jugglers and acrobats, burlesque compa- 
nies, traveling museums, panoramas and dioramas, travelogues, 
and other entertainers. From time to time a celebrated dancer 
might tour the country, and ballet troupes made regular appear- 
ances in the cities. Music halls, from the lowest of dives to semi- 
respectable “concert saloons,” gave those in the cities oppor- 
tunity to be entertained while quenching their thirst. Balloon 
ascensions attracted thousands of spectators in all parts of the 
country, and Blondin, the ropewalker, thrilled many by walking 
his way over Niagara Falls and by other feats. 

The Negro minstrel-show craze was at its height in the fif- 

34 In i860 this was at Cooper Institute {New York Daily Tribune 5 March io, i860). 


ties. 25 New York City had at least ten halls or theaters in which 
minstrels held forth — there were three companies within a few 
doors of one another on Broadway. Except in the summer 
months, Boston was never without at least one minstrel troupe 
during i860, and sometimes there were two; Philadelphians also 
could take in a minstrel show almost any week during the sea- 
son. Cincinnati, Chicago, and other cities had frequent engage- 
ments by minstrel shows, and smaller towns had opportunities 
to enjoy the same entertainment at less frequent intervals, while 
the showboat “Banjo” presented minstrel shows up and down 
the Mississippi. A dozen or more troupes covered all parts of 
the country from the Deep South to New England and the Old 
Northwest, and in California minstrel shows were frequent and 

Variety shows (the term is properly vague) were as widely 
distributed as minstrel shows. Permanent companies and stroll- 
ing troupes presented all sorts of musical entertainment — 
dances, burlesques, pantomimes, slapstick comedy, and all the 
other acts that make up the vaudeville program. “Family” 
troupes were received with particular favor, and one of them 
— the Ravel family (a “family” of some forty persons) — en- 
joyed long engagements in the leading theaters of the country. 
There was a host of individual performers, from magicians to 
Shakespeareans, to augment the list. 

Bostonians, during i860, could attend the occasional variety 
programs at the Boston Theater, operettas and other light musi- 
cal programs, equestrian shows, magicians, “Thioden’s Museum 
of Art,” 26 ventriloquists, the Ravels, “Captain E. C. Williams’ 
Celebrated South Sea Whaling Voyage,” summer promenade 
concerts by Gilmore’s Band, and similar entertainment at ad- 
mission prices usually 25 and 50 cents and sometimes as low as 

35 See Brander Matthews, “The Rise and Fall of Negro Minstrelsy,” Scribner's Maga- 
zine, LVII (1915), 754-59; Carl Wittke, Tambo and Bones (Durham, N.C.: Duke Uni- 
versity Press, 1930); and Laurence Hutton, “The Negro on the Stage.” Harper's Maga- 
zine, LXXIX (1889), 131-45. Advertisements for minstrel shows are to be found in 
the newspapers of almost any town large enough to have a paper. 

36 A traveling collection of paintings, allegorical representations, models of machines 
and of cities, and other miscellanies. 



15 cents. 27 New York had half a dozen or so fairly pretentious 
houses presenting variety entertainment and any number of 
small and transitory “theaters” and “music halls.” There were 
the usual menageries, “parlor operas,” band concerts, and fire- 
works. There were some music halls — I hestitate to say “re- 
spectable” but respectable at least by contrast with others — 
where such entertainers as Sam Cowell and Adah Isaacs Men- 
ken were featured; other places offered entertainment of a more 
dubious sort, with admission prices of a few cents or even with 
no charge except for drinks. Some of these were of the lowest 
order, frequented by men only, where the “waiter girls” coaxed 
patrons to buy drinks. There were numerous beer gardens where 
the German members of the city's population flocked with their 
families to drink beer, listen to music, and perhaps enjoy a farce 
or some other entertainment. Philadelphia also had its music 
halls, equestrian troupes, magicians, “parlor operas,” and other 
entertainment, at the usual prices. 

Cincinnati had numerous beer gardens in its German section, 
and its theaters presented magicians, ventriloquists, panoramas 
and dioramas, 28 ballet troupes, traveling museums, and similar 
fare. Sam Cowell was there in i860 and the Ravel family, and 
there was a permanent variety theater charging 10 and 20 cents 
admission. All over the West — Detroit, Chicago, Galesburg, 
Davenport, Keokuk — people had a chance to see and hear Swiss 
bell ringers, family troupes, magic-lantern exhibitions (the stere- 
opticon came later), clairvoyants, readers, jugglers, magicians, 
singers, impersonators, entertainers of all sorts. Mississippi 

*7 The only source of information for such entertainment is newspaper advertise- 
ments, with occasional comment by travelers, brief mention in popular magazines, and 
passing reference in local histories. It is particularly difficult to find out much about the 
smaller music halls and concert saloons, which collectively probably had more patrons 
than did those one can find advertised or described. 

a8 Antiquarians have apparently taken little interest in the “panorama,” which was 
the movie of its day. The panoramas were long stretches of painted canvas which were 
unrolled before the audience, sometimes as illustrations for a lecture, sometimes as the 
entire entertainment. A panorama might require from one to two hours for its complete 
unrolling, and collectively they included all conceivable subjects — scenic, dramatic, edu- 
cational, religious, even comic (see Schick, pp. 107, 134-41). Newspaper advertisements 
show their popularity, especially in the smaller communities of the West, where any 
sort of entertainment from the outside was received with avidity. 

3 6 2 


River showboats presented drama ranging from Hamlet to Ten 
Nights in a Barroom and lighter entertainment of a wide variety. 
Even remote villagers could see occasional traveling showmen 
with their wagonloads of curios, electrical demonstrations, and 
other novelties. 

In the South, predominantly rural and sparsely populated, 
there was less of this sort of entertainment. New Orleans had 
a permanent variety theater, and Mobile, Louisville, Lexington, 
and other cities were visited by entertainers and traveling com- 
panies. Even Texans could see such entertainment occasionally. 

San Francisco had a galaxy of small halls, upstairs and below 
stairs, newly built as tiny melodeons or transformed from small 
theaters — variety was so popular that heavier drama had al- 
most vanished. Lotta Crabtree was one of the most famous per- 
formers. Prices at the best of the variety shows were 50 and 
25 cents. 

The circus . — The circus was becoming a big business in the 

A new era for the American circus and its patrons arrived with the in- 
creasing tendency toward consolidation and as more modern facilities were 
adopted. The smaller troupes traveled the dusty roads of midsummer, but 
Spaulding and Rogers’s new railroad circus with nine cars of its own pro- 
claimed that “team horses and wagons won’t do in this age of steam,” that 
its unrivaled entertainment would go “wherever there is a track or a steam 
boat.” At the beginning of the decade [of the fifties] the show was advertised 
as the “People’s Circus”; a few years later it was a “European circus, com- 
prising the elite of the European circuses.” When the Civil War came Spauld- 
ing and Rogers were operating on the Mississippi in a “Floating Palace” 
which was seized by the Confederates at New Orleans and converted into a 
military hospital. One of its rivals, E. F. and J. Mabies’ Grand Olympic 
Arena, combined with Nathan’s circus to secure more favorable consideration 
from the public. In the early fifties Barnum’s Grand Colossal Museum and 
Menagerie toured the country attracting thousands although critics de- 
nounced the show for not coming up to the promises of the posters. Later 
accretions made it one of the dominant shows on tour. In further keeping with 
the age of steam, the calliope made its appearance to herald the presence of 
one or another of these numerous claimants to being “the greatest show on 
earth.” 2 ? 

The big circuses toured the country from New England to 
Iowa and throughout the South, carrying with them elephants, 

2 ? A. C. Cole, pp. 196-97. 



lions, tigers, leopards, giraffes, bears, camels, and other animals, 
as well as all sorts of human performers. Wherever they went, 
they were the high spot of the year; and the circus parades 
brought a touch of the exotic even to those who could not afford 
the fifty or twenty-five cents it cost to get in. Floating circuses 
on the Mississippi reached many towns along the river, and 
there were little circuses reaching even the towns of Kansas and 
Nebraska, and California. 

Commercialized sports .■ — There was no professional baseball 
until a decade or so after i860; if there was any really popular 
“spectator sport,” I suppose it was horse racing. Throughout 
the North (except for New England, where only the more dis- 
reputable element went to races) all the cities had their race- 
courses, where meetings were held at least one season each 
year. 30 In the South, where the planter aristocracy prized 
horses highly, there were jockey clubs for the socially elite in 
Virginia, the Carolinas, and at New Orleans. Some California 
cities had jockey clubs and racecourses. 

Professional prize fighting — then a brutal, bare-fisted spec- 
tacle lasting many rounds — attracted many spectators despite 
the efforts of the legal authorities and of outraged public opinion 
to stamp it out. Fights were disguised as excursions to the coun- 
try or were held secretly. Some important matches were held 
just across the Canadian boundary and drew thousands of cus- 
tomers. When John C. Heenan, the American favorite, met 
Tom Sayers, the British contender, in England, the match be- 
came the most popular topic for masculine conversation; news- 
papers and the illustrated weeklies exploited its public interest 
with many illustrations and with many columns of description. 

Some sports were even more frowned upon by society than 
was prize fighting. Such, for instance, was cockfighting, and 
the pitting of wharf rats against one another and against ter- 
riers or fights between dogs and woodchucks or coons. All these 
had to be staged somewhat furtively; but they seem to have had 

3 ° This is a matter of such general knowledge that any citations would be superfluous. 
I do wish to call attention to Henry Murray’s description of the races held at Long 
Island and at Philadelphia (pp. 21-24, 235-37), because he gives so much of the flavor 
and atmosphere of the time. 

3 6 4 


some sort of following, in Boston and New York, in the South, 
in California, and in all parts of the country. 

Bowling and billiards, though not spectator sports, would 
probably come under the head of commercialized sports, since 
they were most often carried on in “saloons” operated for profit. 
Bowling was popular among all classes from the most fashion- 
able down. There were alleys at resorts, in all cities, and even 
in many villages; the newest settlements on the Frontier quickly 
acquired the requisite facilities. In the larger cities and in the 
watering places there were bowling alleys for women. In bil- 
liards an “American School” had grown up, combining some of 
the features of the French and English systems, and the popu- 
larity of the game had increased rapidly. There were hundreds 
of “billiard saloons,” in all the towns of the country, 31 and some 
of the wealthy had tables in their own homes. Weekly maga- 
zines had regular columns for billiards enthusiasts. 

Public dance halls . — In many parts of the country dancing 
was still regarded as sinful and vicious. This meant that the 
better element did not patronize the dance halls (the well-to-do, 
of course, did their dancing at private balls and' parties), and I 
suspect that, since these places were frequented only by the less 
reputable, while the respectable people would not approve of 
them in any case, most of them must have been vulgar in decora- 
tion, music, and behavior. Unfortunately, I have seen no de- 
scriptions of the general run of dance halls — the denunciations 
by outraged clergymen are not very informative — but there 
seem to have been many such halls in all the larger cities from 
New 1 York to the Mississippi. 32 In the South, especially in the 
seaport towns, there were public dance halls, frequently of a 
low order, while in the mining settlements of Colorado and 

31 By the mid-fifties $30,000 a year was reported paid by Chicago patrons for the use 
of billiard and gaming tables (Pierce, II, 432). The more strait-laced looked upon bowl- 
ing, billiards, rifle contests, and match games as at best a waste of time and a demoraliz- 
ing influence. This was especially true if they were carried on in connection with liquor 
saloons, as they frequently were. 

32 Chicago had 80 public dance halls, according to its ministers (quoted in Carl Sand- 
burg, Lincoln: The Prairie Years , II, 338-39). 


Oregon there were “hurdy-gurdies,” where the miners could 
dance with professional partners. 

Members of the staff of the Five Points House of Industry 
investigated some of the dance halls frequented by the poorest 
of New York’s poor. One, in the Five Points near Cow Bay, was 
a “low, damp, dingy basement, twelve feet wide by thirty long, 
and six feet six between joists.” It was overcrowded by “per- 
sons of all ages and complexions”; and the smoking during 
dances contributed to the stifling atmosphere. Another was a 
room eight feet square, four steps below ground, to which the 
admission was two shillings. Down another four steps was a 
room twenty-four feet square and ten feet high where persons of 
all ages and conditions were dancing to a violin and tambourine. 
In St. James Street there was a large German dance hall, filled 
to suffocation with sailors, landsmen, and abandoned women. 
The whole area was full of halls of the same sort — the investi- 
gators visited at least forty, they reported. 33 But such dives 
cannot have been the typical metropolitan dance hall. 


Outdoor sports . — This was not a period in which athletics 
were very highly regarded. No one, according to the historian 
Rhodes, walked when he could ride; no one took exercise in the 
open air; the trotting buggy took the place of the horse’s back; 
athletics were almost unknown. 34 Edward Everett said, in 

There is no lack of a few tasteless and soulless dissipations which are called 
amusements, but noble, athletic sports, manly out-door exercises, which 
strengthen the mind by strengthening the body, and bring men into a gener- 
ous and exhilarating communion with nature, are too little cultivated in town 
or country . 35 

Gratton found the games played by American boys tame beside 
those of English boys. Rounders, hockey, and football were 
only lazily played; there was no cricket, despite recent attempts 

33 Monthly Record of the Five Points House of Industry, Vol. I, No. 6 (October, 1857). 

3 4 Rhodes, III, 71. 

33 Orations and Speeches , III, 407, quoted in Rhodes, III, 71-72. 


to introduce it, no golf, no hurling, no running, jumping, or 
vaulting, no fox-hunting. In winter the boys’ favorite sport was 
sliding down hill on improvised sleds, instead of snowball fight- 
ing or skating. 36 Other English visitors were similarly struck by 
the lack of games and sports or of any interest in outdoor life. 

Although attempts had been made to introduce cricket from 
England, the game never became really popular. There were a 
few cricket clubs, and there were enough followers of the game 
to make possible matches between local clubs and international 
matches with British and Canadian teams — the international 
matches with England in 1859 were notable — but the sport 
failed to appeal to many Americans. 

What later became the “national game” of baseball was in 
i860 still in transition. As “town ball” and other variants,' it 
was played by boys and by the rougher element among the men, 
usually on cow pastures and without gloves or suits. In the 
early fifties it began to take on the characteristics of modern 
baseball; amateur clubs were organized as far west as the Mis- 
sissippi (in Kansas and Nebraska it was still only a children’s 
game), national conventions were held, and rules standardized. 
By i860 there were a number of well-organized clubs, a few 
touring the country, and thousands of spectators were being at- 
tracted to games. But not for another decade was there any pro- 
fessional baseball, and only in 1859 did intercollegiate baseball 
get started. There was no intercollegiate football until 1869, al- 
though in the fifties there was some playing of the game, usually 
involving a rough-and-tumble fight. Yale and Harvard .even 
banned interclass football games, and only in one or two other 
colleges was any football played. In some parts of the country, 
boys seem to have played a sort of football among themselves. 

Ice skating was one of the most popular sports in the North. 
“This sport was one of the few that required little instruction 
from Old World customs. Popular with old and young and with 
both sexes, advocates of women’s rights seized upon it as a 
means of ushering in the new day; some found it an excellent 
argument for the bloomer costume.” 37 “Everybody in good soci- 

36 Gratton, II, 313-14. 37 A. C. Cole, p. 188. 



ety skates in Boston/’ said Harper’s Weekly in 1859, going on to 
say that Boston’s skaters were better than those of New York. 38 
In x 861 the same magazine remarked: “Six years ago skating 
was an amusement peculiar to school-boys in the country; it is 
now an amusement universal and of every age.” Not only were 
there places to skate in Boston, but there were “skating parks” 
in such places as Roxbury ($2.00 would admit one for the sea- 
son), 39 and special excursion trains carried 1,000 or 1,500 Bos- 
ton skating enthusiasts to Jamaica Pond and other near-by 
waters. 40 In New York 

the ladies flock in great numbers to the Fifth Avenue Pond and Central Park 
to skate. Here you may see all the fashion and beauty of the city, watching or 
taking part in the healthy sports. In the Central Park (which is free for ad- 
mission) from twenty thousand to sixty thousand persons may be seen. 
The Fifth Avenue Pond is situated between 58th and 59th Streets, and is more 
select, by reason of the charges, which are five dollars for gentlemen and two 
dollars for ladies. 41 

Mrs. Cowell, on a January day when the temperature was 2 0 
below zero, saw nearly 7,000 persons in Central Park, 3,000 or 
4,000 of them skating. 42 Roller skates of a crude sort were being 
advertised, but roller skating did not become at all popular un- 
til the sixties. 

Another favorite winter sport in the North was sleighing — 
“the great equestrian feature of New England.” 43 In good skat- 
ing weather, according to Pairpont, it was not unusual to drive 
to some hotel or house at a considerable distance and after a 
dance or a chat and supper to return by moonlight. During the 
severe winter of 1856 several couples were frozen to death while 
on long sleigh rides. 44 In Boston parties clubbed together to hire 
a sleigh. A first-rate sleigh, for which the charge might be thirty 

“Skating at Boston/’ Harper's Weekly , III (March 12, 1859), 174. 

39 Harper's Weekly , V (January 19, 1861), 35. 

4 ° John A. Kouwenhoven, Adventures of America, 1857-1900 (New York: Harper & 
Bros., 1938)3 No. 23. 

4 * Batcheler, pp. 103-4. In an article entided “The Athletic Revival” {Harper's 
Weekly , IV [January 28, i860], 50), the praise of skating is illustrated by a picture of the 
skating in Central Park. 

4 2 Disher, p. 241. 43 Bunn, p. 25. 44 Pairpont, pp. 56-57. 

3 68 


or forty dollars, could accommodate thirty-five or forty persons 
and would be drawn by from six to twelve horses; its interior 
would probably be lined with black bearskins, and rugs and 
wrappers were provided. 45 While sleighing is usually thought of 
as a rural and small-town sport, in 1 860 the busiest street of the 
greatest metropolis was popular for sleighing: 

Broadway, while the snow reigned supreme, was one continued exhibition 
of unchecked gaiety. The hotels vied with each other in fitting up splendid 
corteges , magnificently appointed for the use of their guests. The omnibus 

lines, discarding wheels, put their long ships on runners Private 

sleighs of all sorts and sizes, belonging to everybody and nobody .... filled 
up the interstices The sidewalks, meanwhile, were lined with an ad- 
miring crowd As night approached, the revel reigned supreme, and 

then were added to the glare of snow, the blaze of gaslight, the jostling multi- 
tude, the innumerable turnouts, a constant singing of song, of wit, and repar- 
tee — the population of the great American metropolis forgetting care, stocks, 
hard times, and “jordan,” agreed to be happy in Broadway. 46 

In contrast, boating, which required not only a boat but a 
place to row or sail it, was a sport for the few. Harvard, Yale, 
and a few other eastern colleges were beginning to take rowing 
rather seriously; class clubs owned their boats, and intercollegi- 
ate matches were held with some regularity. The wealthy were 
taking an interest in yachting: there were yacht clubs in New 
York, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Chicago, New Orleans, in North 
Carolina, and probably elsewhere. The “America's” defeat of 
British yachts in 1851 gave added interest to yachting; and, al- 
though it required post-war prosperity to make it anything like 
a popular pastime, the illustrated weeklies are full of accounts of 
regattas; and regattas from Portland, Maine, to Milwaukee 
were watched by twenty to thirty-five thousand spectators. 47 
There must have been a good deal of boating apart from college 

45 Bunn, p. 25. 

4 6 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, I (February 2 , 1856), 1 18; see also the full- 
page engraving accompanying the item “Sleighing in Broadway/’ Harper's Weekly , II 
(March 6, 1858), 149. European visitors were all pleased at the gaiety of the scene and 
by the variety of equipages — twenty-passenger vehicles, family sleighs, cutters, milk 
wagons fitted with runners, drays (Batcheler, pp. 102-3; Hancock, p. 183; Disher, p. 

47 Dulles, p. 142. 



crews and full-blown yachting, but such rowing and canoeing 
has left no record. In April, i860, there were reported to be 224 
boats and 466 oarsmen, as well as 35 yachts, on the Charles 
River; 48 and in many cities there were rowing matches and 
“regattas” for townspeople and professionals. In winter there 
was a little iceboating on northern waters. 

Riding and driving were certainly among the most common 
amusements, with participants in all classes of society. The 
wealthy had their fine saddle or trotting horses and prided 
themselves on their dexterity at managing them: it was a com- 
mon criticism of the new Central Park that its entrances opened 
directly on roads which were likely to be the scene of impromptu 
races. The park itself included miles of bridle paths and driving 
roads. In a time when the natural mode of transportation was 
by horseback or carriage, many people took for granted the 
ownership of a horse or horses, though as to what proportion of 
the population did have their own horses I have only the vaguest 
of notions. 49 It must be remembered, too, that anywhere in the 
country it was a very small community indeed that was too 
small to have a livery stable. 

I have no way of knowing how common hunting and fishing 
were among the urban population, but I suspect that for men 
and boys even in the cities they were the common recreational 
pursuit. Cities were not so big then but what a few minutes 
would bring one into the country, nor did one have to go far to 
find abundant fish and game. No elaborate equipment was 
necessary, and anyone who had any leisure at all could find odd 
moments to go off with his gun or his pole for a little sport. 
Big-game hunting and game fishing were within the reach of 
those only moderately well-to-do. 

Geographical differences were not very important. Even 

4 8 Boston Evening Transcript^ April 16, i860, citing the Saturday Evening Gazette. 

49 See above, pp. 265 IF. Partly it depended upon the degree of urbanization and the 
traditions of the locality. Los Angeles streets were, at least on week ends, likely to be the 
scene of displays of horsemanship by horsemen in their fanciest clothes. All farmers had 
their teams, of course, even if they could not afford buggy or saddle horses — farm boys 
and girls did much of their courting while riding in the pleasant evenings — and probably 
a greater proportion of small-town dwellers than of city dwellers had horses. 



boys living in Boston or New York could go hunting or fishing, 50 
and much the greater part of the population found it even sim- 
pler. Farther south, the canvas-back ducks of the Chesapeake 
Bay region were highly esteemed. In Virginia coon hunts and 
possum hunts were favorite sports, and in the salt-water sections 
oyster roasts and fish fries provided an excuse for frequent out- 
ings. The deep-sea fishing and game hunting of the Carolinas 
(the game included wildcats, deer, bear, foxes, and wild turkeys, 
as well as snipes, partridges, plover, woodcocks, and geese, 
ducks, and other water fowl) were known to sportsmen the world 
over; 51 even small boys in these regions could go fishing fre- 
quently and hold night hunts for coon and possum. In all re- 
gions of the South there was an abundance of fish and game, and 
feats of skill (especially with the rifle) were a popular pastime. 
In the West there were pheasants, prairie chickens, rabbits, 
squirrels, and other game — even cranes and storks, while the 
buffalo and elk of the Far West attracted sportsmen from the 
East and even from abroad. The usual game in the Old North- 
west included prairie fowl, squirrels, wild turkeys, and (in the 
early fifties) wild pigeons, rabbits, and quail. There were still 
a few deer, and occasional hunters kept deerhounds. 

Other outdoor amusements can be dismissed — at least for the 
urban population — with the briefest mention. The game of 
racquet had been imported from abroad and a few clubs organ- 
ized, but it found favor only among the wealthy. There was 
curling in Central Park and a little swimming. In California 
there were still bullfights and fights between bears and bulls, 
but these were only rarely held. Foot-racing appealed to many 
in the North and West. Other outdoor sports, popular now, 
were not to be found in the fifties. Croquet was introduced in 
the sixties and did not become popular until later still; lawn 
tennis was not introduced until the seventies. Bicycles required 

50 Cf. the quotation from Henry Adams, p. 37 3, below. 

51 See William Elliott, Carolina. Sports by Land and Water (New York: Derby & 
Jackson, 1859). There was a number of books on fishing and hunting published during 
the fifties and early sixties, the most popular probably being those of Henry William 
Herbert (“Frank Forester”). 



years of improvement after their first appearance in the middle 
sixties before bicycling could become a fad. And golf, in the 
modern sense, did not get its start in this country until the late 
eighties, and not until the twentieth century did its reach ex- 
tend down to the upper middle class; variants, called “bandy,” 
“cambuc,” or “ goff were played a little in some parts of the 
country. Archery, which had had a few followers earlier in the 
century, was virtually dead in i860. 

Parks and playgrounds . — An agricultural population has lit- 
tle need for athletics, and still less is there any need for setting 
aside tracts for outdoor exercise or for the enjoyment of nature. 
Only in the cities were there people who rarely had a chance to 
get out into the country; but so rapid had been the growth of 
city populations that the need for civic action to meet the new 
problems of urbanization were only just coming to be realized. 
Cities had not awakened to the necessity of providing parks and 
playgrounds for their populations — of bringing the country in 
to those who could not go out to it. New York’s Central Park, 
with its 843 acres (the largest in the country) was a wilderness 
until the late fifties; during the war it was improved at a cost of 
$400, 000 a year. Brooklyn spent $1,000,000 on its recently ac- 
quired Prospect Park, Philadelphia almost nothing on the new 
Fairmount Park. There were parks of a sort in Chicago, Bos- 
ton, and Baltimore. 

Boston’s only real park was the Common — a 40- or 50-acre 
tract — although there were a few small public squares. Else- 
where in New England there were public squares and an occa- 
sional spot of landscaped public ground, but no parks or play- 
grounds for the enjoyment of the poor. Before Central Park was 
acquired. New York city directories listed nineteen parks, but a 
number of these “were merely places where the street intersec- 
tions were a little wider than usual”; others (for instance Hud- 
son Square and Grammercy Park) were private property; still 
others (as the Bowling Green) were padlocked. The whole park 
area was al^out 170 acres, but not over 100 acres were open to 
the public. The largest single park, the Battery, was ai acres. 52 

s* NevinSj Evening Post, p. 195. 


37 * 

Central Park, after years of agitation, was finally voted in 1857, 
and work began immediately. Part of the area was smoothed 
out and planted to grass and trees, and other parts made more 
rugged; there were pleasure drives, bridle paths and walks, a 
garden, a skating pond, a lake with boats to rent, an arboretum, 
and other features. In the summer there were free band con- 
certs. By i860 it was being visited by as many as 75,000 per- 
sons on a fine Sunday in spring, and as many as 84,000 on a good 
day for skating. 

Philadelphia had had public squares from the beginning. 
Fairmount Park was originally acquired early in the century as 
part of the program of development of the city's water supply; 
in the forties and fifties large tracts adjoining the original area 
were donated to the city, but the city itself did little in the way 
of park development. Chicago's first park, Dearborn Park,' was 
acquired in 1839, an d ^ rom that 7 ear there was a gradual expan- 
sion of the park system; not until the sixties, however, were 
there any large parks, and the vacant tract between Michigan 
Avenue and the Illinois Central tracks was used for recreation. 
Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, a 500-acre area, high and undulat- 
ing, with deep ravines, springs, and brooks and with a splendid 
view, was opened in i860. Elsewhere in the East there were no 
parks worthy of the name, and in the West the need for parks 
had not yet become apparent. Nowhere were there public play- 
grounds. The lack of parks prompted Olmsted to write in Ap- 
pleton's Cyclopedia , in 1861 : 

In the United States there is, as yet, scarcely a finished park or promenade 
ground deserving mention. In the few small fields of rank hay grasses and 
spindle-trunked trees, to which the name is sometimes applied, the custom of 
promenade has never been established. Yet there is scarcely a town or thriv- 
ing village in which there is not found some sort of inconvenient and ques- 
tionable social exchange of this nature. Sometimes it is a graveyard, some- 
times a beach or wharf, sometimes a certain part of a certain street; sometimes 
interest in a library or a charitable, a military, or even a mercantile enter- 
prise, is the ostensible object which brings people together. * But in its Euro- 
pean signification the promenade exists only in the limited grounds attached 
to the capitol and to the “white house” at Washington, and in the yet half- 
made park of New 

53 Quoted in Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and Theodora Kimball (eds.), Frederick 
Law Olmsted (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1922), 1 , 129. 



Indoor sports . — The same rapidity of urbanization that ex- 
plains the lack of parks and playgrounds explains the general 
lack of interest in indoor sports. The rural population had never 
felt any need either for parks or for athletics — they got plenty 
of physical exercise in the open whether they liked it or not. Now 
there were coming to be great numbers of people who worked 
inside and needed healthful recreation out of doors; more and 
more of them were working at jobs which gave them little physi- 
cal exercise, so that they needed some sort of indoor sports or 
gymnastics to keep them in good health. There was little oppor- 
tunity for this in the city. What Henry Adams wrote of Bos- 
ton in 1850 was largely true ten years later, and of all American 

Boston at that time offered few healthy resources for boys or men. The 
bar-room and billiard-room were more familiar than parents knew. As a 
rule boys could skate and swim and were sent to dancing-school; they played 
a rudimentary game of baseball, football, and hockey; a few could sail a boat; 
still fewer had been out with a gun to shoot yellow legs or a stray wild duck; 
one or two may have learned something of natural history if they came from 
the neighborhood of Concord; none could ride across country; or knew what 
shooting with dogs meant. Sport as a pursuit was unknown. Boat-racing 
came after i860. For horse-racing, only the trotting-course existed. Of all 
pleasures, winter sleighing was still the gayest and most popular. 5 * 

Some few were coming to be aware of the consequences of this 
failure of the city population to find some substitute for out- 
door life and work. Oliver Wendell Holmes — whose literary 
fame sometimes makes us forget that he was one of the most 
progressive medical men of his generation — wrote in an often 
quoted paragraph: 

I am satisfied that such a set of black-coated, stiff-jointed, soft-muscled, 
paste-complectioned youth as we can boast in our Atlantic cities never before 

sprang from loins of Anglo-Saxon lineage We have a few good boatmen, 

no good horsemen that I hear of, nothing remarkable, I believe, in cricketing, 
and as for any great athletic feat performed by a gentleman in these latitudes, 
society would drop to a man who should run around the Common in five 
minutes. 55 

The Education of Henry Adams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1918), pp. 38-39. 

& Atlantic Monthly , I (1858), 881. There is a very similar editorial comment in 
Harper's Magazine , XIII (1856), 646. 



That there was coming to be an interest in gymnastics is 
shown by the career of Dio Lewis, who interested many in Bos- 
ton and its vicinity in correctional a#d developmental exercises. 
Gymnasiums were built in Boston, New York, Chicago, San 
Francisco, and other cities to provide regular programs of calis- 
thenics and instructional facilities at small fees. Colleges began 
to do more for the physical well-being of their students, and 
Y.M.C.A.’s took up the work among the young men of the 
cities. Articles on gymnastics appear in such magazines as the 
Atlantic Monthly , Harper s Magazine , and the North American 
Review , and books were written on the subject. The German 
Turnvereine , first appearing in 1849, by *860 had over 150 soci- 
eties with a membership of nearly 10,000 scattered over the 

However impressive these beginnings may be, they were only 
beginnings, and few people, relative to the population, per- 
formed calisthenics at home or took gymnasium workouts. Few 
young men took up amateur boxing for the amusement or exer- 
cise it offered them, and one hears nothing of amateur wrestling, 
fencing, or tumbling; there were no indoor swimming pools, as 
far as I know, and no such indoor games as handball or basket- 

Balls and parties . — Such commonplace amusements as card 
playing and dancing were so much taken for granted — except by 
occasional critics — that it is next to impossible to find out with 
any degree of assurance just how much they counted in the so- 
cial life of the time. With dancing there is the additional diffi- 
culty that the single term takes in such diverse manifestations 
as the staid social functions of Boston, the ballrooms and the 
miserable little dives of the cities, the Saturday night dances in 
frontier taverns, and informal parties given at home. Boston’s 
social life seems to have been somewhat stuffy, and among the 
elite there was little genuine gaiety. 56 But even Boston had 
such festivities as “Gilmore’s Monster Ball,” with Gilmore’s 

56 Cf. Gratton, 1 , 127-31; C. F. Adams, pp. 39-40. 



Band, an orchestra, and refreshments; two dollars admitted one 
man and two women. 57 

No stuffiness characterized the social life of the greater num- 
ber of New York’s inhabitants. Nichols wrote that New York- 
ers were even more given to dancing than to making money — a 
very strong statement indeed. During the season (November 
to March) there were balls five nights a week, in perhaps twenty 
ballrooms, besides many private parties. Social clubs and soci- 
eties were organized with dancing as their chief activity, and or- 
ganizations whose chief purpose was something other than danc- 
ing had their balls, too. There were fifty or sixty regiments of 
military .volunteers, hundreds of societies and lodges — Free- 
masons, Odd Fellows, Sons of Temperance, Druids, and various 
Irish and German societies, trade and benevolent organizations 
— all with their dances. A dollar or two would secure admission 
to the best of the balls, and for the most expensive five dollars 
would buy a ticket for one gentleman and two ladies. 58 Even in 
the panic winter of 1857-58, 10,000 persons attended the calico- 
dress ball of a New York City benevolent society; and masquer- 
ade balls grew so popular that the police authorities, concerned 
over the attendance of a vicious element, invoked the New York 
statute against them. 59 The informality that characterized a 
large segment of New York's social life is indicated by the fact 
that the hotels from time to time during the season gave dances 
for guests and others — the Metropolitan Hotel, for instance, 
used to give “Metropolitan Hotel Hops.” 60 

The swankiest functions in Philadelphia were the traditional 
“Philadelphia Assemblies,” which were held into the fifties, at 
least as late as 1853-54, and possibly later. They were appar- 
ently discontinued in the later fifties but revived after the Civil 
War. The “Bachelors' Ball” continued several years after the 
Assemblies had been discontinued. 61 

57 Advertisement in Boston Evening Transcript , February 15, i860. 

s 8 Nichols, I, 279-80. 59 A. C. Cole, p. 198. 

6a See Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper , VII (February 29, 1859), 198-200. 

61 Thomas W. Balch, The Philadelphia Assemblies (Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & 
Scott, 1916). 



Throughout the Northeast and the West the attitude of the 
community toward dancing was likely to differ from one region 
to another according to the religious views of the founders. In 
many New England communities and in communities farther 
West where the New England influence predominated, dancing 
was likely to be regarded as sinful, though perhaps tolerated. 
But in most towns soirees, cotillion parties, and balls were held 
periodically, with great or less formality. As in the big cities, 
there were military companies, fire companies, and lodges and 
other groups which gave dances. In the South dancing had nev- 
er had the stigma attached to it that it had in the North, and 
dancing parties were probably even more characteristic of south- 
ern social life than of northern. Among the gentry subscription 
balls, with admission usually five dollars, were popular. In fron- 
tier towns dancing was probably the most common sort of 
amusement — frequently the only one. Nowhere was dancing 
more popular than in Utah. There were very formal balls at the 
Social Hall, and many other less formal parties in Salt Lake 
City. In other communities in the Territory the school or meet- 
ing-house could be used for a dance, and someone always found 
to play a fiddle, an accordion, or an organ. People came from 
far and wide, bringing their children and sometimes their sup- 
per. Public balls were all the rage in San Francisco, while in Los 
Angeles the dances were spontaneously got up whenever the 
young men felt it was time to have another dance and were held 
quite simply. 

In many parts of the Southwest the Spanish and Mexican in- 
fluence colored the social festivities, and there were fandangoes 
at El Paso, Santo Fe, Los Angeles, and other places. In New 
Orleans the Mardi Gras had long been an established part of the 
city's social life, and the Creole influence was discernible also in 
other social events. 

Although there was a great deal of card-playing, I am in- 
clined to believe that parties were seldom given with card-play- 
ing as the principal object — at least I have seen no such parties 

Social organizations . — The anti-Masonic movement of the 



forties, centering in New York State, had by i860 practically 
died out, having done little to restrict the growth of the Masonic 
and other lodges. Cole writes: 

The mystery of the secret fraternal society strengthened its hold on city 
folk, and prefigured the place it was later to occupy in the social organism. 
Usually it was the Masonic order or the Odd Fellows, but newer organizations 
like the Improved Order of Red Men, the United Order of Friends, the Inde- 
pendent Order of United Brothers and the Sons of Malta also attracted a 
following. The secret ritualism was one explanation of the remarkable popu- 
larity of the Know Nothing party and of the Sons of Temperance. Apart 
from certain clergymen few seemed to share the hostility of President Jona- 
than Blanchard of Knox College who classed not only the fraternal orders 
but even the Sons of Temperance as “anti-Republican in their tendencies 
and subversive of the principles both of the Natural and Revealed Religion .” 62 

The lodges of that day were not very exacting in the reports 
required of local secretaries, and it is impossible to make a very 
satisfactory estimate of total membership. There were appar- 
ently something like 5,000 Masonic lodges, with a membership 
in the neighborhood of aoo,ooo, distributed all over the country 
but proportionately greater in the South. 63 De Bow’s Review re- 
ported in 1858 that membership in the Odd Fellows was greater 
than i93,ooo. 64 

The swanky social clubs were then, as now, only for the social- 
ly acceptable. Batcheler thought New York had several good 
clubs; he mentioned the Union, the Union League, the New 
York, and the Century Clubs. 65 Other cities of the country had 
clubs of the same sort, among the more exclusive being the Adel- 
phia Club (Philadelphia), the Somerset Club (Boston), the 

62 Irrepressible Conflict , p. 195. 

63 The History of the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons 
(rev. ed.; Boston: Fraternity Pub. Co., 1898) gives the number of lodges as 4,534 in 
i860, with a membership of 184,811 (pp. 877-93). Reports of state organizations in 
1857 and 1858 collected for Robert Morris {The History of Freemasonry in Kentucky 
[Louisville: Rob Morris, 1859]) totaled 4,o55lodges “registered” and 178,176 “mem- 
bers returned” (p. 431). There are several states missing in each of these totals. 

For the history of Masonry in the United States see the above and also Robert R. 
Gould et aL , The History of Freemasonry (New York*. John C. Yorsten & Co., 1889), 
Vol. IV; and Albert G. Mackey and William R. Singleton, The History of Freemasonry 
(New York: Masonic History Co., 1898), Vols. V-VI. 

6 *De Bow’s Review , XXIV (1858), 287. 

65 P. 59* 



Maryland Club, the Reading Room (Newport), the Boston 
Club (New Orleans), and the Pacific Club (San Francisco). 66 

I suppose there must have been thousands of social clubs, or- 
ganized mostly to sponsor parties and dances for their members, 
but their history is unrecorded and what they were like must be 
left to the imagination. The American had long since become a 
“joiner” in the distinctive American sense of that word; and, as 
Nichols remarked in a pas